Arguably, Columbus’s first wave of “African immigration” was a domestic migration from the South during the Great Migration beginning in about 1900, when millions of African-Americans moved north and west to escape bleak economic prospects and racial segregation in the South. Nowadays, however, Columbus is experiencing a second wave of immigration — this time directly from Africa.

The number of sub-saharan Africans living in Columbus is rising rapidly. Columbus hosts the nation’s second-largest population of refugees from Somalia, for example, as well as large populations of immigrants and refugees from Ghana, Nigeria, Mauritania, Senegal, Liberia, Uganda and Ethiopia. Ohio hosts over 100,000 sub-saharan African immigrants, while the sub-saharan African community in Columbus numbers in the tens of thousands.

Columbus’s African Immigrant Population and the 2020 Census

The US conducts a nationwide census every 10 years, and one is being held in 2020. The results matter, because population distribution determines the allocation of over $1.5 trillion in federal government benefits. As such, groups and cities that are undercounted could miss out on benefits that otherwise would have been theirs.

The problem with the African immigrant community is that many of its members are undocumented and, understandably, fear they will be deported if they reveal their name and address in the census. In fact, the census is not used to determine whether someone’s presence in the US is illegal. The reason why, of course, is that to do so would encourage undocumented immigrants to hide from the census, thereby defeating its purpose.

The Columbus Mayor’s Office is orchestrating an effort to encourage vulnerable groups, including undocumented African immigrants, to participate in the census. Actions taken by the Trump administration in the past, however, including targeting many local Mauritians for deportation, have made it difficult for government officials to win back the trust of the African immigrant community.

The Ohio Government’s New African Immigrants Commission

New African Immigrants Commission (NAIC), a division of the Ohio state government, was formed in 2008 but only became active in 2017 when six commissioners from the Ohio African immigrant community were appointed. A full NAIC commission numbers 11, and the final 4 members were not appointed until 2018. All members of the commission are required to be of sub-Saharan African origin, and they must be either US citizens or green cardholders.

The NAIC supports the development of policies and programs that meet the needs of African immigrants in Ohio, and it advocates on their behalf. According to the Ohio statute that created this organization, some of its duties and powers include:

  • collecting and distributing information;
  • conducting hearings, conferences, investigations, and studies on problems facing the sub-Saharan African community in Ohio; and
  • receiving grants and gifts from public and private sources.

Somali Group Takes Matters into Its Own Hands

Tired of the Ohio state government’s foot-dragging on actually appointing members to the NAIC, in 2017 a group of Somalis formed SomaliCAN, an advocacy group headquartered in Columbus. Although SomaliCAN is somewhat focused on immigrants from Somalia, it makes a point of not limiting its mission to this group — instead, it advocates for all immigrants. Its activities have declined since the NAIC has become active.

Contact your immigration lawyer in Columbus, Ohio should you have any questions and read more information about immigration in Columbus now.

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