by Tony Best
Special to the NNPA from The Carib News
There is a gathering force propelling the movement towards comprehensive federal immigration reform in Washington.
It’s a drive that if successful can help at least 500,000 people from the English, Spanish, French and Dutch-speaking Caribbean gain legal status if the laws are changed to give millions of undocumented residents the green light to legal status and eventually naturalized American citizenship.
From the White House and the Department of Homeland Security to members of the U.S. Congress, both Republican and Democrat, the thrust is the same: change immigration laws so that the foreign born who haven’t broken any criminal laws can be given amnesty and live out the American dream.
Just the other day, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and its Secretary, Janet Napolitano, approved a new rule that reduces the time Americans can be separated from their foreign born families – spouses, children and parents – and in the end become permanent residents and then citizens.
The rule would speed up the application process for a waiver that’s needed by undocumented immigrants who were previously barred from changing their status because they had entered the country without being processed at a border crossing, an airport or seaport. Now, beginning March 4th, many of them can seek a waiver before they leave the country to pick up the green card from the American consulate back home.
“Under the provisional waiver process, immediate relatives must depart the United States for the consular immigrant visa process,” explained the DHS. “They can apply for a waiver before they depart for their immigrant visa interview abroad. The new process will reduce the amount of time U.S. citizens are separated from their immediately qualifying relatives.”
Joan Pinnock, President of the Jamaican-American Bar Association Northeast, said that the new rule would benefit those who might have entered the country “using someone else’s name” or passport, a fairly common path to entry into the country.
“Thousands of people from the Caribbean, be they from Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, Guyana, Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago and other islands in our region have used such methods and now the DHS is saying they are eligible to apply for a waiver and a change in status,” Pinnock told the Carib News. “Some came across the border without being inspected by immigration agents and therefore were barred from changing their status. The new rule designed to support family unity makes them eligible to apply for a waiver.”
But Pinnock said that many West Indians were fearful that once back home for an interview at the U.S. consulate they could end up being denied re-entry to the U.S.
“Some are skeptical about it but many are willing to give it a try. Some are willing to forego the opportunity to change their status. Although we aren’t quite sure how many people from the English-speaking Caribbean and Haiti would be eligible, the number could be as high as 100,000,” she said. “West Indians owe it to themselves to evaluate their options with the best legal advice.”
As the Obama Administration opens that route to legalization, the President himself has made it clear he plans to push a comprehensive immigration plan of his own through supporters in Congress in March.
“I think whatever process we have needs to make sure border security is strong, needs to deal with employers effectively, needs to provide a pathway for then undocumented here, needs to deal with the Dream Act kids,” said the President . And I think that’s something we can get done.”
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida, who voted against the Dream Act almost three years ago now, says he now supports aspects of the measure in 2013 and to prove it he released several reform proposals.
For example, he wants to increase the number of skilled workers coming into the U.S; expand guest worker permits for lower skilled laborers; and would support a change of status for many undocumented immigrants. But first they must pay fines; settle back taxes and prove they hadn’t broken any criminal laws. He is now arguing for a shot at citizenship for illegal immigrants.
“Washington has run away from the problem for years and punted them to them for future generations to solve,” Rubio said. “I’ve disagreed with some ideas offered in past debates and the way the issues been handled, so it is our responsibility to offer solutions that modernize our legal immigration system, strengthen security and enforcement measures, and deal with the undocumented population in a humane way that doesn’t give them a special advantage over immigrants trying to come legally.”
But Obama and Rubio aren’t alone. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce argues any legislation that emerges from Congress should include increased border security; provisional visas for lesser skilled workers and expand the number of green cards given to foreign nationals who received advanced degrees from U.S. colleges and universities.
Tom Donahue, the Chamber’s President, said his organization favored a national employment verification system, which has been a contentious issue for years.
“We need to provide a path out of the shadows for shadows for the 11 million undocumented immigrants who live in the U.S. today, provided they meet strict conditions,” said Donohue.