Caribbean Nationals Too Welcome Immigration Reform Bill

Rallies continue to push for comprehensive immigration reform.
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By Felicia Persaud

News Americas, NEW YORK, NY, Mon. Jan. 28, 2013: Caribbean immigrants, many of whom know relatives and friends who are undocumented and scared, were among those who were welcoming the news of a bi-partisan immigration reform measure that was introduced into the U.S. Senate today, Jan. 28th.

While Latino immigrants, who make up most of the undocumented population in the U.S. are the ones who stand to profit most, undocumented Caribbean immigrants, who stay largely in the shadows, will also benefit if the legislation passes both Houses. President Barack Obama, now beginning his second term, has promised to sign the measure into law. He is set to speak on the measure in Las Vegas today, Jan. 29th.

For Caribbean undocumented immigrant, Mervyn, the measure is “very good news.”

The immigrant, whose real name has been changed to protect his identity, told NAN that he’s happy Republicans and Democrats are finally coming together over something.

“It’s a very good thing for the 11 plus million people who are illegal in this country and who have no chance of being legal,” said Mervyn. “Although the economy is tough, illegals are finding work because we do jobs Americans don’t do.”

Irwine Clare, head of the Caribbean Immigrant Services, who has spent close to two decades lobbying for immigration reform, welcomed the measure.

“Its welcome news for the 11 million persons trapped in the system, including Caribbean nationals,” the Jamaican immigrant told NAN.

“We have for many years called for a pathway to citizenship for all law abiding, undocumented immigrants and this bi-partisan measure is very much appreciated,” he added. “It’s a real life line for our community and can also bode well for the economies of the Caribbean since the many thousands of Caribbean nationals who are undocumented will get a chance to travel home finally.”

“While we are applaud President Obama for standing with immigrants, it is important that Caribbean nationals (documented or not) support this new push for Immigration Reform,” added Caribbean American, Pastor Gilford T. Monrose. “By our community mobilizing in huge numbers, this will send a strong signal to Congress and the White House that our community is serious about reforming our laws to give undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship.”

Minna Lafortune, president of the Society For The Advancement Of The Caribbean Diaspora, also welcomed the news for all communities of immigrants, including Caribbeans.

But noted: “We are hopeful for a quick passage and we are also hopeful that terms will not be too burdensome.”

Rickford Burke, President of the Caribbean Guyana Institute for Democracy, told NAN that he is “cautiously optimistic that a group comprising Republican and Democratic senators have reached a compromise, ahead of President Obama’s announcement tomorrow of his immigration reform measures, that would ostensibly grant millions of undocumented immigrants, including hundreds of thousands of Caribbean nationals, immediate, provisional status to live and work in the US and ultimately an opportunity to become citizens.”

But he said: “The devil of the plan is in the details. Hence, as Caribbean Americans we’ll have to fight for what we want” especially since he pointed that that there are conditionalities that many are still unsure of including the time-frame within which legalization will be accomplished before a path to citizenship could be granted.

“While the policy to grant immediate legal status to undocumented is commendable, we should viciously oppose making a path to citizenship contingent upon interminable or unending conditions concomitant mandates imposes on the Federal government, as those seeking legal status will have no possible control of the government’s execution of or performance in implementing the proposed mandatory benchmarks,” said the CGID head. “The policy ought to grant immediate temporary status to all undocumented immigrants living in the US and, subject to them passing a criminal background check; paying all back taxes and a civil fine, should be placed on a pathway to permanent residence and citizenship, without undue burdens and conditionalities. Undocumented immigrants have suffered enough by living in the shadows where they have suffered abuse and lack of opportunity. It’s time for comprehensive reform that offers genuine relief and a clear and reasonable path to citizenship.”

Burke also called on “the leadership” of the Caribbean-American community to join the discussion, get engaged and fight for “our common position so that ultimately we would be at the table when a decision is made.”

Like Burke, Caribbean America activist, Chuck Mohan, was cautiously optimistic, insisting: “Let’s hope it real immigration reform and not like the immigration deform that was introduced in the past.”

Guyanese national, Leroy Nelson, too warned caution in celebration but said the measure is “a useful step.”

Several political and immigration leaders weighed in on the measure.

Congressman Luis V. Gutierrez, (D-IL), the Chair of the Immigration Task Force of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, called the measure a “momentum” boost.

“We are on track to pass a bipartisan bill this year that legalizes millions of immigrants, keeps families together, strengthens our country, and eventually allows immigrants to apply for citizenship. All of the pieces are falling into place,” said the congressman in a statement.

But he warned: “We have not signed on the dotted line and some important details are yet to be resolved, but what we have now is momentum. Momentum, plus encouragement from the American people, the President, and immigrant and Latino communities, will get an immigration bill across the finish line this year.”

Caribbean American Congresswoman, Yvette D. Clarke, took to Twitter to insist that “immigrants have come to this nation in search of the American Dream.”

As such she noted: “After delaying for years, we must replace a system that does not work in the Twenty-First Century with comprehensive #immigration reform.”

Benjamin Johnson, executive director of the American Immigration Council, lauded the measure as the “beginning (of) an honest, bipartisan effort to confront the many difficult issues that must be resolved for immigration reform to become a reality.”

In New York City, Co-Chair of the Partnership for a New American Economy and Mayor of New York City, Michael R. Bloomberg, welcomed the measure, saying it “is not only good economics, but also good politics.

The measure – the “Bipartisan Framework for Comprehensive Immigration Reform” by Senators Charles Schumer, (D-NY), John McCain, (R-AZ), Richard Durbin, (D-IL), Lindsey Graham, (R-SC), Robert Menendez, (D-NJ), Michael Bennet, (D-CO), and Jeff Flake, (R-AZ), will: create a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the country allowing for immigrants can register with the government, pass background checks and pay fines and back taxes in order to earn “probationary legal status;” increase border security efforts including adding unmanned drones, surveillance equipment and more border agents; require completion of an entry-exit system to track whether people in the U.S. on temporary visas have left as required and create a commission of lawmakers and community leaders living along the southwest border to make a recommendation about when the border security measures have been completed.

Once security measures are in place, immigrants on “probationary legal status” could apply for permanent legal status behind other immigrants already in the system. People brought to the U.S. as children, and farm workers, would have a quicker path to citizenship.

The bill also aims to improve the legal immigration system; reduce backlogs in family and employment visas; award green cards to immigrants who obtain advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering or math from American universities; create non-forgeable electronic system for requiring prospective workers to demonstrate legal status and identity and enforce stiff fines and criminal penalties for employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants.

Employers could hire immigrants if they can demonstrate they were unsuccessful in recruiting an American and the hiring of an immigrant will not displace American workers.

The bill also calls for the creation of an agricultural worker program to meet the needs of the nation’s agriculture industry when American workers are not available; allow more lower-skilled immigrants to come to the country when the economy is creating jobs, and fewer when it is not and permit workers who have succeeded in the workplace and contributed to their communities over years to earn green cards.

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