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US Immigration Reforms and the Caribbean

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Tue, Dec 5, 2014

The November 20 announcement by US President Barack Obama that he is to take executive actions to initiate immigration reforms has bearing on the fortunes of tens of thousands of unauthorised immigrants in the USA from the Caribbean and their families, both in that country and back in their countries of origin.{{more}}

It is true that the announcement of unilateral action may reflect the President’s frustration about the stubborn refusal of the US Congress to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill. It also demonstrates his fears that with the recent Congressional elections handing full control of both Congressional Houses to the anti-immigration Republicans, there may be little prospect for the passage of such a bill before his term of office ends in two years’ time.

The measures announced are in keeping with President Obama’s long-standing commitment to immigration reform, though it has been pointed out that more deportations have taken place during his tenure than under his predecessors. But he has been adamant that in principle, discrimination against so-called illegal immigrants must be ended and that such persons should be given the opportunity to regularise their status and achieve legal standing.

Thus it was, in announcing the measures, the President said, “We shall not oppress a stranger for we know the heart of a stranger – we were once strangers too.” This exposed the reality that, save for the native people, all other groups of people in the USA, the majority whites included, all came from elsewhere. When the native people observed the first European settlers, they must have perceived them as the first illegal immigrants, though they were treated far more kindly than those of today.

The centrepiece of Obama’s proposals is a new programme for unauthorised immigrants who are parents of children born in the USA. Some 4 million in this category will have the threat of deportation lifted and be allowed to work and hold social security cards. The President had encouraging words, to the effect that “You can now come out of the shadows.”

Another one million immigrants will be offered protection from deportations, lifting the cloud of stress and worry. Significant numbers from the Caribbean, St Vincent and the Grenadines included, will no doubt be affected positively if President Obama’s actions are implemented.

This is good news for all concerned. The humanitarian gesture will enable such unauthorised immigrants to live more normal lives, to have a greater choice of jobs, not just those at the bottom end of the scale, to have access to social services and help to improve their living standards. In turn, they will be in a better position to help their families and relatives still in the Caribbean, a most welcome development.

But the right-wing Republicans are sure to fight back. Anti-immigration hysteria is being fuelled on both sides of the Atlantic, and in the case of Latinos and Blacks, form part of racial discrimination which continues to rear its ugly head in the USA and Europe. There are currently over 11 million unauthorised immigrants in the USA, according to the Migration Policy Institute, with another 18 million naturalised immigrants and 10.7 million more either being legal permanent residents or temporary legal residents.

It will surely be an intense struggle to get humanised immigration reform and already Mayors of large cities with significant immigrant populations are trying to lobby support. On the initiative of New York Mayor Bill di Blasio, some 20 of them met in New York yesterday in a summit with immigration reform on the agenda.

Caribbean governments need to complement the efforts by publicly supporting President Obama’s plans, limited though they might be, and using their diplomatic missions to support the mobilisation of Caribbean migrants in furtherance of this humane goal.

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