Student Forums
A journal of social practice & professional engagement for the Antioch community

“Know Your Rights”: Samake ’19 at Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) in NYC

I am working as an Executive Intern for the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI), a non-profit organization dedicated to the education and engagement of African American and black immigrant communities. Our efforts are intended to help migrants organize and advocate for racial, social, and economic justice as well as to stand against policies that affect all marginalized people in their communities. BAJI currently has chapters in New York, Georgia, California, and Arizona although it’s efforts are felt nationally. One of its most important programs currently is its “Know Your Rights” campaign, which is a community training initiative focusing on understanding basic rights and helping vulnerable populations learn how to protect themselves from abuse.

BAJI helps Black immigrants by stopping Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers who arrest undocumented immigrants in their homes, in hospitals, and on the streets without just cause. It documents how deportations have ensued as a result of small infractions, such as subway line jumping, parking tickets, and even sometimes for no reason at all. BAJI accomplishes this goal through a program called “MetroCard Sweep.” This program recognizes that New York City MetroCard fares have been increasing for the past number of years and people do not always have the means to pay for it. BAJI workers and volunteers thus purchase MetroCards and give a free swipe to anybody needing it in order to lower the number of people getting tickets that lead to ICE arrests and deportation. This also results in an overall decrease in the number of illegal train jumps in New York City.

The recent Executive Order on immigration has caused chaos in undocumented immigrants communities, and as a response BAJI workers have made it a priority to expand communication and direct people to free legal services as well as allies who can advocate for them. In my work with BAJI, I have been responding to calls, referring people to our partner lawyers, as well as answering general questions about immigration and how their migration status matters at this moment. We have also been expanding education programming by offering more “Know Your Rights” events in Public International High Schools.

At BAJI, I do not have fixed assignments but work on projects as needed. My principal job is to assist Opal Tometi, the Executive Director, by taking minutes at meetings, conducting research, and working closely with her to launch a new project called “Migration within African countries.” Under Opal’s supervision, I have been contacting national and international organizations who advocate for universal human rights and migrants rights in order to ally with them and unite around common goals. My contacts are mostly from West and East Africa since I am able to speak with many of them in a language they understand. I have also been translating documents into French for international rallies and protests.

My main project is the African Migration Report. In preparing this I am researching aspects of how migration works within Africa, how the immigration laws compare to the ones in the West, and trying to connect with organizations helping African refugees as well as other migrants in African countries. The report aims to be informative about migration in Africa and to explore the reasons why this has not been talked about in the past.

I have been working with every BAJI staff member, learning to organize events and protests efficiently, looking at how policies are written, developed and implemented, and how to expand my networking skills with people and organizations. One of the things I am most excited about is my educational work on the Zero Tolerance Policies for Black and Brown students in public institutions. This is extremely important because it is focused on how restorative justice and peer mentoring can help prevent severe and unfair punishments of students of color in public institutions in New York City.

In summary, I am proud of my work at BAJI as I feel we have been helping undocumented immigrants in many ways. We have fought side by side with lawyers to stop ICE officers from arresting people in the street. We have saved many undocumented people from being abused and deported without legal representation in court or visits by their family. Even with a small staff, I have learned from BAJI that community organizing can be very efficient, both in terms of engaging the community as well as teaching people to advocate for themselves and stand up for the America we deserve.

For more information on Black Alliance for Just Immigration, check out the links below.

The Real Crime: Mass Criminalization of Our Communities


Black Alliance for Just immigration is located at 660 Nostrand Avenue Brooklyn, NY 11216.

Written by

Anna Samake is a multilingual First Generation College Student and Horace Mann Fellowship majoring in Transnational Environmental Science and Political Economy with a focus on Spanish.

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