Authored by Leslie Wybiral
The Ethiopian Committee on Immigration, Inc. (ECI) was formed in October, 1982. (Mekbib, 1983). ECI’s main objective is to find a suitable solution to immigration problems faced by Ethiopian citizens in the United States. (Mekbib, 1983). Its principal concern is therefore humanitarian. (Mekbib, 1983).
Most Ethiopians arrived in the United States after 1974 when a repressive Marxist regime known as the “Derg” toppled Ethiopia’s 3,000 year-old monarchy and seized control of the government. (Neumann, 2016). Until 1994, Ethiopians were the largest group of Africans to immigrate under the provisions of the Refugee Act of 1980. (Neumann, 2016). The overwhelming majority of Ethiopian nationals in the U.S. were placed under “docket control” entailing voluntary departure. Voluntary departure means that an individual is given a permit to live and work in the U.S. for a year at a time. However, if the situation in Ethiopia is perceived to have changed, the person is expected to willingly return home or face deportation. (ECI, “Human Rights Violations in Ethiopia,” 1982).
In the summer of 1981 the State Department concluded that conditions under the Derg had improved. (Williams, 1982). It recommended the cancellation of the voluntary departure status that had made it possible for Ethiopians to remain provisionally in the United States. (Williams, 1982). Unsurprisingly, in November 1981 the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) ordered 2,400 Ethiopians out of the country. (Williams, 1982). Many who received the order defied it. (Williams, 1982).
In late 1982, ECI began to actively lobby members of Congress on issues related to legislative and administrative protection for Ethiopian refugees, asylees and those on extended voluntary departure status. (ECI, “Issues and Problems of Immigration,” 1983). The ECI Fundraising Letter reports some important successes to its supporters. For example, ECI seemingly persuaded Senator Alan K. Simpson, co-sponsor of the Simpson/Mazzoli bill, to change the Senate version of the bill to include persons under extended voluntary departure among those eligible for legalization.
In anticipation of the bill’s passage, the ECI invited the American Civil Liberties Union, The National Immigration, Refugee & Citizenship Forum along with INS and State Department representatives to participate in a panel conference on the issues and problems of immigration as they affect Ethiopians. (ECI, “Issues and Problems of Immigration,” 1983). Topics included the implications of the Simpson/Mazzoli bill to Ethiopian nationals, alien rights, asylum, The Immigration and Nationality Act and U.S. Immigration Policy on Ethiopians. (ECI, “Issues and Problems of Immigration,” 1983). The ECI then implemented community outreach programs to inform Ethiopian nationals about their immigration rights and related legal and procedural issues. (ECI, “Issues and Problems of Immigration,” 1983).
The Simpson-Mazzoli Act was signed into law by Ronald Regan on November 6, 1986 as the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. (“Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986”, 2016). The Act established a path to citizenship for existing illegal immigrants who had entered the United States before January 1, 1982.
ECI’s Fundraising Letter and the narrative description of its past, present and planned activities is the Vincentian practice of social justice in action.
G. Mekbib to National Forum Members, March 23, 1983, Box 91, Folder 874, American
Committee on Italian Migration Records, Legislation. 1980-83 Correspondence, The Center for Migration Studies.
“Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986.” Wikipedia. March 13, 2016. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immigration_Reform_and_Control_Act_of_1986.
Neumann, Caryn E. (n.d.). Ethiopian immigrants. Retrieved February 18, 2016, from http://immigrationtounitedstates.org/483-ethiopia.html.
The Ethiopian Committee on Immigration. “Human Rights Violations in Ethiopia: The Case for Permanent Adjustment of Immigration Status for Ethiopians in the United States.” Issue: A Journal of Opinion 12, no. 1/2 (1982): 16-21. Accessed February 23, 2016.
The Ethiopian Committee on Immigration. “Issues and Problems of Immigration: The Case of Ethiopians.” Panel Conference at Georgetown University, Washington, D.C., April 30, 1983.
Williams, Winston. “Ethiopians In U.S. Fear Deportation.” The New York Times, January 27, 1982, World sec.