News Americas, NEW YORK, NY, Fri. Nov. 1, 2013: In the early 1990s, before anyone believed in immigration reform, there was Irwine G. Clare, Sr., raising his voices for the undocumented and urging Caribbean immigrants who were qualified, to become naturalized U.S. citizens. Ask him then if some 18 years later he would have imagined receiving the Order of Distinction, Officer Class, from his native land and the answer would have been a resounding “hell no!” Coupled with a laugh, of course!
But 18 years later, there was Clare on October 21, 2013, shaking the hands of the Governor General of Jamaica, Sir Patrick Allen, and receiving the seal that declared him Irwine Clare, Sr., OD on Heroes Day on the Caribbean island.
“Surreal,” is how he described the moment walking up to collect his award at King’s House, Jamaica, before adding that the award is dedicated to the memory of his late mother.
For Clare, the road to the national honor from his native land has not been an easy one. He’s been ahead of the game even when many thought he was insane. It was just a year before the reform of the draconian immigration reform laws of the United States in 1996, when the Jamaican migrant founded the Caribbean Immigrant Services, Inc. (CIS).
A year later, just as he predicted, the Caribbean was battling with deportees as more and more green card holders who committed even petty crimes, began being sent back to their countries of birth.
And so Clare took his message to churches, college campuses and radio, urging the community under the banner of “empowerment forums” to get involved, support “amnesty for the undocumented and get naturalized to avoid deportation.
Using his own money and with little human resources, he took the message across the tri-state areas of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and further to Philadelphia, Washington and other areas throughout the U.S.
But that was not enough. He soon extended beyond the United States and into the Caribbean through a series of forums titled “US Immigration, Impact on the Caribbean,” with the goal being to inform and sensitize Caribbean nationals and governments about the U.S. immigration laws and its impact on the region and its nationals.
Then there were the trips to Washington with just a few die hard supporters to lobby for immigration reform at a time when the Congress was – yes controlled still by Republicans, and Democratic lawmakers’ constant excuse was they could not get “anything” passed because they were not in control.
And who can forget the march with few supporters down Eastern Parkway on Labor Day in Brooklyn, NY with the bold message that was ahead of its time: “Amnesty Now.”
His consistent advocacy on behalf of the Caribbean community led to an appointment to former Senator Hillary Rodham-Clinton’s Advisory Committee on Caribbean Issues and to numerous awards and citations, including a congressional award from U.S. Congressman Gregory Meeks.
Clare’s civic service reflects membership in the Association of Caribbean Elected Officials & Community Leaders, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and several immigration policy groups.
In 2010, he was recommended for the post of a senior partnership specialist at the US Census Bureau and lead that organization’s 2010 Census Count for Brooklyn and the Caribbean Community- a testament to his strong grassroots credentials.
Then came his election to the Jamaica Diaspora U.S. North East Advisory Board.
But that did not quell his support of all things Caribbean Diaspora and Caribbean. For throughout his career, it was never only about Jamaica but empowering of the Caribbean Diaspora and the Caribbean region.
Even when he founded Team Jamaica Bickle, it was not simply about Jamaican athletes but the group opened their arms to all Caribbean athletes at the Penn Relays annually and continues this tradition with limited resources and a few great volunteers.
But nothing could prepare him for October 21st and the Order of Distinction. Now as the moment of honor remains burnt in his mind forever, he can’t help but reflect on the hard road that led him to that award and humbly say: “I’m privileged that folks from the Diaspora have allowed me to serve them and this recognition fortifies my zeal and zest to continue to serve.”