There is a good reason why two members of the United States (US) House of Representatives from Brooklyn are focusing attention on the economic and social needs of Caribbean island-nations and coastal states.
Together Hakeem Jeffries and Yvette Clarke, two Democrats represent tens of thousands of Guyanese, Barbadians, Jamaican, Grenadians, Guyanese, Trinidadians and other West Indian who call Brooklyn home and they understand that what’s of interest to their constituents must become priorities.
“We represent two of the largest populations of Caribbean immigrants in the country,” said Jeffries. “They are our constituents.”
Clarke agreed. “We were sent to Congress by voters in our districts to represent their interests and thousands of them come from the Caribbean and what concerns them must be of interest to us,” she told BARBADOS BUSINESS AUTHORITY.
Both lawmakers insist Washington should focus more of its attention on the economic challenges confronting the Caribbean: high debt; widening fiscal deficits; rising unemployment; and tepid
In some countries, Barbados among them, there hasn’t been any growth at all in recent years.
“We need to speak to the [US] Department of State to determine what are the things that Washington can do to assist our friends and allies across the Caribbean that are experiencing increased drug trafficking, gun running and other criminal acts,” Jeffries said. “These problems are adversely affecting the economies of our Caribbean neighbours, especially the tourism industry.”
That was why the 40 plus member Congressional Black Caucus was planning to “take up this issue” of economic development in the Caribbean as part of a “broader conversation” about the region’s needs and what Washington can and should do
Jeffries said black elected officials on Capitol Hill were aware of the high debt burdens being borne by Jamaica, Barbados and most states in CARICOM and the need for an accelerated pace of economic growth after years of stagnation and even recession.
“We need to pursue a comprehensive approach as it relates to the debt crisis of many of these nation so they can be placed on a firm financial footing and can continue to thrive as a region,” Jeffries said.
Congresswoman Clarke agreed. “I think there is a lot more the United States can do to ease the economic pressures on Caribbean nations,” she insisted.
“There is a willingness on the part of a lot of our partners looking at the Western Hemisphere to see how the Caribbean can be helped when it comes to security and things of that nature.
“There is a lot more that we can do to assist the Caribbean region and we intend to pursue every avenue.”
She cited the case of US
vice-president Joseph Biden, who she pointed out was looking at the energy sector to determine what steps Washington could take to help reduce the cost of energy in the region.
“If we can develop solar energy there can be a benefit to the countries and a benefit to the United States. I think there are many things we can look at.”
Both Jeffries and Clarke believe the enactment of comprehensive immigration reform would improve the quality of life of millions of Caribbean immigrants across the US and ultimately prove beneficial to the Caribbean. They want the Obama administration to reduce the pace of deportations, especially those involving women and children, who were being deported in droves annually to the Caribbean and Latin America.
“I think the administration has come to realize how massive is the deportation effort, the cost of it, particularly in the context of a broken immigration system,” said Clarke.
“All of that has created real tensions between stakeholders, whether it is the business sector that needs visas or our Caribbean communities which have been hit by fragmentation of families. That challenge has come to the administration.”
She was quick to strike a note of caution, emphasizing that although Obama can use executive authority to ease the pressure on immigrants, “let’s be clear executive action is very limited because the president can’t pass legislation. That’s the responsibility of Congress.”
For his part, Jeffries sees the need for Obama to bring some more “balance to his deportation policy” which has affected immigrants from Jamaica, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and their neighbours.
“The President has got to balance his requirement of adhering to the law with making sure the immigration system is proceeding in a compassionate fashion in the absence of comprehensive immigration reform,” the congressman said. “This issue is very important for many of the people I represent. We are going to continue fighting for immigration reform along with Congresswoman Clarke and I am confident that eventually we are going to fix the broken immigration system.”