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African Immigrants Celebrate US Independence, Opportunities

File—An African woman waves a U.S. flag at the National Mall during the inauguration of President Barack Obama, Washington, Jan. 20, 2009

WASHINGTON — African immigrants that have turned to the United States in pursuit of safety, opportunities and economic prospects, Tuesday celebrated Independence Day alongside their peers in the North American nation.

As the United States commemorates 247 years of independence, African immigrants that have turned to the U.S. for refuge said they are grateful for the opportunities presented to them.

Naquetta Ricks, a Liberian immigrant and lawmaker in the U.S state of Colorado, told VOA that America's independence day represents freedom, opportunities and success.

"July fourth for me is about Independence Day and the birthday of America, this great country that we all live in," Ricks said, adding, "I also remember that it’s an honor and privilege to be serving my community as a new American, but I think we all enjoy the freedoms that America offers."

Research conducted by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a U.S. research and policy institute, found that federal and state policies in America are generally progressive towards immigrants.

The report cited examples including the state of Arizona, where voters approved a ballot initiative to extend in-state college tuition to qualified students regardless of their immigration status.

States such as Colorado and Pennsylvania have enacted laws that protect immigrant workers by prohibiting unfair labor practices.

Hodan Hassan, a Somali immigrant who sought refuge in Kenya's Dadaab refugee camp before resettling in the U.S., where she is now a lawmaker in the state of Minnesota, echoed the findings by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Hassan said her life dramatically improved when she moved to the U.S.

"I remember being a refugee was a really hard life, where you have no safety, security and control over your life. Your food and income comes from the UNHCR (U.N.'s refugee agency) … the small memory I remember was a very rough life," Hassan said.

"America is the reason why I am a state legislator today because we had a chance to go to school, we had a chance to work hard and a chance to rebuild our lives, so that’s what America means to me. It means a chance for people who are fleeing war, famine, insurrection and uncertainty," Hassan added.

Migration groups report 4.6 million Black people in the United States, as of 2019, were born in a different country – a figure the U.S. Census Bureau reports will increase to 9.5 million by 2060.

Of that 2019 number, the Migration Policy Institute reports that over 2.1 million were immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa.

Despite the findings by migration groups, immigration continues to be an issue of contention in the U.S., as voters are divided - notably on partisan lines, over policies.

A 2022 Gallup Poll found 70% of U.S. citizens surveyed thought immigration to be good for the nation, however, a majority felt that illegal immigration was a “critical” threat to national security.

Godfrey Kurauone, a Zimbabwean immigrant based in Texas, said the process of transitioning to being a U.S. resident or citizen is not easy.

Kurauone applauded lawmakers for prioritizing national security while attempting to ensure that foreign nationals successfully incorporate into society.

"The process is not that easy, and I do understand why that is so," Kurauone said.

"Imagine if it was a case where everyone would come and be in the country without being registered as an immigrant … That distorts the government system of knowing how many citizens do we have and how many people need assistance," Kurauone added.

While foreign nationals like Kurauone celebrate independence, talks on immigration policy remain a priority as many turn to the U.S. for opportunities.

VOA's James Butty and VOA Somali contributed towards this report.