Most Ethiopians in the US are recent immigrants who left their homes after the infamous Red Terror in 1977–1978 during the military regime. They settled in the US after receiving political asylum or resettled as refugees from countries neighboring Ethiopia. Despite the dearth of information regarding the population of Ethiopians in the US, one estimate puts them around half a million out of an estimated two million worldwide. Ethiopians have migrated to different parts of the world since the overthrow of Emperor Haile Selassie’s government in 1974. There are more Ethiopians in the US than anywhere else outside of Ethiopia. The majority reside in metropolitan Washington, D.C., including in the suburbs of Maryland and Virginia. Ethiopians are gradually gaining political and economic visibility in the capital area.
The involvement of Ethiopians in the politics of the US — gaining citizenship, registering to vote, and casting votes in elections — has increased. Research that I conducted with Maigenet Shifferraw in the late 1980s indicated that most hoped that the political conditions that had pushed them out of Ethiopia would change and enable them to return to their country. That hope never materialized.1
After the overthrow of the military regime, the emigration of Ethiopians continued because of both the political and economic situations and a new US immigration policy, the Diversity Visa (DV) lottery. The Ethiopian quota of DV-lottery winners in 2007 was 6,871. A few also immigrated through the Special Occupation Workers H-1B visa which was created in 1990. Most of that population is now in the US to stay.
In order to make any political impact in the US and influence its policy towards their country of origin, Ethiopians have formed nascent organizations. It is only an organized group that makes a difference in the American pluralist polity. One such organization is the Ethiopian-American Constituency Foundation (EACF). EACF is “dedicated to being a conduit for the collective voice of Ethiopia, Ethiopians and
1 Getachew Metaferia and Maigenet Shifferraw, ibid.