“BEHIND THE HEADLINES: Immigration policy and family ties”

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It’s a question many Bajans, Trinidadians and other Caribbean immigrants as well as corporate leaders across the United States are asking: where is US immigration policy heading and how will it hurt us?

The urgency in their voices is clear and it can be traced to the anti-immigrant atmosphere which is being stirred in many areas of the US.

And it’s happening in a nation that is really a land of immigrants and up to now has the world’s most generous approach to foreigners.

If you peruse the long list of executive orders signed by President Donald Trump during his first two weeks in the White House, and gauge the national reaction to them, it would become clear that America is heading for a showdown with itself and its traditional foreign allies, not to mention its economic interests.

For without immigrants, many manufacturing plants, technology firms and the agriculture industry would suffer severe labour shortages and would be forced to cut production. Immigrants are their lifeblood.

The threats to Obamacare as contained in the executive order signed on Trump’s first day in office, would eventually become real if Republicans in Congress and the White House repeal the landmark programme which has enabled at least 20 million Americans to gain access to health insurance and to medical care.

Next is the threat to the North American Free Trade Agreement, that was signed decades ago by the US, Canada and Mexico and which is a driving force behind economic growth in the three countries. Then there was the unilateral abandonment of Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership by the new administration signals the world  that trade protectionism was on the front burner and globalisation on the back.

There is more. Scour statements made by the president and many of his closest advisers about family planning and abortions around the world and the re-imposition of the dreaded Mexico City policy on developing countries, including Barbados, Jamaica, Guyana, Grenada, St Lucia and their Caribbean neighbours and the resulting cut-off of USAID funds to CARICOM, for instance, would be a major blow to the fight against HIV/AIDS and the provision of health care services for women. Just ask the Barbados Family Planning Association about the Trump decision and you hear about troubles that are on the horizon.

But it is the temporary ban on foreign travellers from seven predominantly Muslim countries – Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya and Somalia – that is forcing immigrants and ordinary travellers who want to visit, live, work or study in the US to worry the most about their future.

Considering that the ban also involves restrictions on refugees fleeing oppression at home and the introduction of extreme vetting of prospective immigrants, it stands to reason why the fear in Caribbean immigrant communities in New York, Florida and elsewhere is growing.

“The president is trying to fulfil campaign promises and it was a shame that innocent people were detained and family life was being disrupted” by the ban, said Joan Pinnock, an immigration attorney and head of the Jamaica Diaspora organisation in the northeastern region of the US. Margaret Jordan (not her real name), agreed with Pinnock.

“Firms are going to be reluctant to hire undocumented immigrants from the Caribbean, Africa and Latin America because they worry about being penalised by the Federal immigration agencies for employing people who don’t have the permission to work but are doing so anyway to support their families,” said the Bajan. “It causes alarm bells to ring.”

That concern is shared by many of the major corporations which look to immigration to provide the highly trained engineers and technicians for their plants. Their top executives are already planning to take Trump to court, contending that his immigration actions are unconstitutional and unwarranted.

More than a dozen US state attorneys general feel the same way. Their real aim is to keep a pipeline open to the foreign high-tech specialists who are keeping their plants humming. In agriculture, the extreme vetting of immigrants may also reduce the number of workers from Mexico who reap food crops in the South and the northeast.

Clearly, in his first two weekends in the White House, Trump has managed to ignite nationwide condemnation of his conservative social agenda and his use of executive power to impose curbs on immigrant rights are putting West Indians on edge. What’s unnerving is the near panic among Green Card holders and people with US visas who have been detained at airports when they tried to return home in the US.

Little wonder that Federal judges in four jurisdictions, including New York and Virginia, have issued temporary restraining orders against detention and deportations of citizens of the countries pinpointed in Trump’s order. Green Card holders who have not broken any US laws and who have valid US Green Cards or valid visas should not have been detained and Federal US District court Judge Ann Donnelly in New York said so in plain language.

“There is imminent danger that absent the stay of removal, there will be substantial and irreparable injury to refugees, visa holders and other individuals” from the countries on the list, she wisely warned.

How embarrassing, how unwise, disruptive and chaotic the Trump immigration plans have turned out to be. If pursued any further, they can and would split families, derail dreams of a better life and shake the confidence of people everywhere in the fundamental decency of the US.

Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, a Brooklyn Democrat, City Council member Jumaane Williams of Flatbush, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, New York State legislator Jess Hamilton, the New York Immigration Coalition, the Caribbean-Guyana Institute for Democracy, New York Assemblyman Michael Blake of the Bronx and a host of key immigration advocates are lending their voices to the just cause of opposing Trump’s restrictive policies.

“The vicious attacks on families across the United States cannot stand,” said Clarke. After all, there are at least 11 million immigrants in large, medium-size and small communities whose roots are in the 190-plus member states of the United Nations who want to lead normal lives in a country that should be welcoming them, not showing them the door. (TB)