Our cities lose when we demonize one of our most educated and skilled immigrant communities.
In and around Dallas, concerns—or "hysteria," according to some—over Ebola are reverberating. And African-born immigrant communities there are feeling the brunt.
A Texas resident originally from Nigeria was recently rejected from a college in the Dallas area because the school is denying enrollment to anyone from countries combating Ebola. (It's worth noting that Nigeria has no confirmed cases of the virus at the moment, while the U.S. does.) Other Dallas residents who emigrated from West Africa have been taunted and told to "Go Back to Liberia," the Los Angeles Times has reported.
This growing Ebolaphobia is veiling the contributions African immigrants bring to American metros. Overall, Africans living in the United States are mainly living in large urban centers including New York, L.A., D.C., and Atlanta. And overall, African immigrants are highly educated compared to other immigrant groups—giving a boost to the quality of the recruiting pools in those cities.
According to U.S. Census Bureau data, over 41 percent of African immigrants living in the United States between 2008 and 2012 had received a bachelor's degree or higher. Under 30 percent of Latino immigrants had earned a college degree. And compared to the U.S.'s total foreign-born population, the rate of college graduation was 13 percentage points higher among African immigrants.
"African immigrants are among the best-educated U.S. immigrants," a 2012 study by the Migration Policy Institute concludes. In fact, the percentage of African immigrants holding a college degree is higher than the rate of Americans aged 25 and over, the MPI study explains. (This is understandable, given that residency visas are most often given to highly skilled foreigners.) Immigrants from Africa have also mastered the English language better than other immigrant groups.
Less than 50 percent of immigrants living in the U.S. speak fluent English, according to the MPI report , but 70 percent of African immigrants speak English fluently. This is important since, as CityLab's Tanvi Misra recently reported, laborers with sub-par English skills can earn up to 40 percent less than fluent speakers. African-born workers are disproportionately advantaged to succeed in the American workplace and contribute to our economy.
Yet the news headlines scare, and contribute to an anti-African sentiment: "In Cities With West African Populations, Hospitals Take Extra Steps," warned today's New York Times. Given that the Ebola epidemic is unlikely to end any time soon, West Africans living in the U.S. will continue to be associated with the viral disease rather than viewed as elite members of urban immigrant communities.
This is unfortunate on several fronts. It's ignorant. It's racist. And it's a great way to turn people from one of this country's most capable and educated foreign-born populations off to the idea of America.