Op-Ed: What Barack Obama’s New Immigration Policy Means for Jamaica

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By David Rowe
Op-Ed Contributor

Jamaican-American citizens were positively surprised by US President Barack Obama’s bold move to permit young illegal immigrants to work and study in the United States.

One of the major problems fueling crime in Jamaica is the arrival of deportees from the United States who are culturally and socially disoriented when they arrive and are unable to find employment for the skills that they have developed.

In what can only be described as a circumvention of Congress, President Obama has issued an executive order which will ease the enforcement of U.S. Immigration laws to a large number of illegal aliens.

Some of the young Jamaican immigrants who are in the United States will be able to remain in the country to work and study without immediate fear of deportation or removal, as deportation is now defined by statute.

Under the new policy, Immigration and Customs Enforcement will stop removing illegal immigrants who are under the age of 30 if they entered the United States as juveniles and are law-abiding.

Jamaican politicians from both political parties have consistently sought shifts in US deportation policy, as displaced deportees have caused social havoc in Jamaica, with the government of Jamaica not having the budgetary scope to accommodate Jamaican-American deportees into society.

Commonwealth Caribbean commentators have generally been critical of the high numbers of deportation that have occurred under the Obama administration.

This new presidential policy partially achieves the goals of the moribund “Dream Act,” legislation sponsored by the Democratic Party, which was devised to give young illegal immigrants a quick path to citizenship if they attended and completed college or joined the military.

Under the new executive order, illegal immigrants will qualify (on a case-by-case basis) if:

• They came to the United States before age 16.
• They have continuously resided in the United States for at least five years preceding the new policy.
• They must be in school, graduated from high school, earned a GED or were honourably discharged from the United States Coast Guard or the Armed Forces of the United States.
• The plan will not be apply to individuals who have been convicted of a felony, a significant misdemeanor or pose a threat to national security or public safety
• Are under the age of 30.

The qualifying illegals are eligible for a two-year deferral of deportation (subject to renewal) from the United States and are eligible to apply for work authorization.

This break could not have come at a better time for hundreds or thousands of Jamaicans living in the United States. Rather than having to hide from the authorities, they are in a position where they will be able to work and send remittances to Jamaica.

Jamaican officials are likely very sensitive to the fact that this situation is dependent upon an Obama re-election.

It is also likely that if Republican candidate Mitt Romney is elected president he will remove the executive order.

US immigration was definitely on the agenda at the Sixth Summit of the Americas when President Obama last met with Caribbean leaders in April in Colombia.

This Obama initiative will certainly encourage Caribbean leaders to put immigration on their bilateral agenda when they negotiate with the United States at summits in the future.

Perhaps what is required is a blanket amnesty for all illegals in the US.

David Rowe is an attorney in Jamaica and Florida and a law professor at the University of Miami School of Law in Coral Gables, Fla.

Note: the opinions expressed in Caribbean Journal Op-Eds are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Caribbean Journal.