Earlier this year, The Council of the City of New York passed a bill that will prohibit the New York Police Department (NYPD) from handing over Caribbean and other immigrants charged with low-level crimes to US federal authorities. Prior to the passing of this bill, immigrants were being gratuitously deported without criminal records or legitimate evidence of being a threat to public safety for offenses as low-level as traffic violations. The deportation of such individuals has had damaging effects on the communities and families that were so suddenly torn apart. Since the bill went into effect at least 267 people, who would otherwise be turned over to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, have since been released.
This is one of the many battles occurring across the nation, as immigration has become a hot topic these days. While the media tends to frame the immigration issue as one that primarily affects Hispanics coming from Latin America, the reality is that the U.S. immigration battle is not specific to a certain group. Many different ethnic groups simultaneously comprise the “face” of the immigration debate. As Caribbean people, we too have a stake in the outcome of this great debate.
In 2001, a cohort of skilled Caribbean professionals was recruited by the NYC Department of Education to teach in the city. These recruits were promised the ability to sponsor their children for U.S. citizenship but those promises have not been properly upheld. Due to the painfully slow immigration process, some of these teachers are only just now receiving their green cards, 12 years later. However, children who turned 21, aged out of the system and are left without a means of gaining permanent residency, despite their parent’s legal status. These children, who were brought here legally, have almost no alternative except to stand behind the DREAM Act.
The DREAM Act is a proposed legislation that will provide conditional permanent residency to certain immigrants in the United States. Immigrants must be without a criminal record, have arrived in the U.S as minors, have lived in the U.S. for at least 5 years and have graduated from a U.S. high school. They would receive temporary residency upon completing 2 years of military services or two years at a four year institution of higher learning.
Last year, New York City Council member Robert Jackson introduced a resolution that would revise the language of the New York DREAM Act to include Caribbean “DREAMERS.” This would ensure the fulfillment of these broken promises and grant the children of these legal immigrants the right to pursue a college education and receive financial aid, of which they are currently disqualified for in New York State. The legislation is getting heavy backing from the International Youth Association (TIYA), composed of the children whose parents were recruited.
New York is not the only frontline on the fight for Caribbean immigration. Haitian immigrants in Florida and other parts of the country are also working towards immigration fairness by challenging policies like the Cuban Adjustment Act (better known as the “Wet Foot, Dry Foot Policy”) and ensuring that Haitian immigrants and refugees get the maximum benefit of the Temporary Protected Status they were offered after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.
According to the Migration Policy Institute, in 2009, 3.5 million immigrants from the Caribbean resided in the United States, accounted for nine percent of the total foreign-born population and 90 percent of these immigrants came from Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Haiti and Trinidad. Out of these, 1.7 million African-Caribbean immigrants account for more than half of the overall black immigrant population. Most black Caribbean immigrants arrive as legal permanent residents based on family ties. Also in 2009, 69% of all Caribbean immigrants resided in Florida and New York. As a whole, Caribbean immigrants are significantly more likely to become naturalized U.S. citizens than any other immigrant group.
As immigration continues to be a popular topic in this country, it is important that Caribbeans and all other immigrants in the U.S make sure that their issues are not lost in the conversation. By putting a single face on this immigration issue, legislators and even other Caribbeans may fail to recognize the relevancy of the immigration debate to their own lives and the window of opportunity to evoke lasting change to policies may be lost.
Editor-in-Chief’s Note: Alicia Davis is a freelance Editorial Contributor with MNI Alive. Marketing Networking & Information for the global Caribbean community.