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Obama hope - Jamaican diaspora holds high expectations for immigration reform

Published:Tuesday | January 22, 2013 | 12:00 AM
President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama wave as they walk down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington yesterday.
The president kisses the first lady as their daughters Sasha (left) and Malia look on during yesterday's inaugural parade. - ap photos
President Barack Obama greets members of the audience after the ceremonial swearing-in at the US Capitol during the 57th Presidential Inauguration in Washington, yesterday.
The president is greeted by the Rev Luis Leon, as he and his family arrive at St John's Church in Washington, yesterday, for a service prior to the 57th Presidential Inauguration ceremony. From left are mother-in-law Marian Robinson, First Lady Michelle Obama, the president, Sasha Obama, Rev Leon, and Malia Obama.

The next four years are being touted as the "grand legacy phase" for United States (US) President Barack Obama and some influential Jamaicans in the diaspora are suggesting that the signposts already erected by the country's 44th commander-in-chief augur well for their countrymen living in America.

As Obama prepared to deliver his second inaugural address, one expert predicted immigration reform that is likely to favour Jamaicans could be a reality within the next 18 months.

"This is legacy time for President Barack Obama," declared Irwin Clare, co-founder and managing director of the Queens, New York-based Caribbean Immigrant Services, ahead of the inauguration ceremony.

"The telltale signs are already there," Clare asserted repeatedly, just before Obama took the Oath of Office for the second time in as many days to ceremonially launch him into his second term as president.

Support for reform

In his inaugural speech, Obama stood firmly in support of comprehensive immigration reform, a pledge he has yet to fulfil since first placing it on the table during the 2008 presidential campaign. He has repeatedly vowed to make it one of his top legislative priorities this year.

"Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity; until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country," he declared yesterday.

Patrick Beckford, chairman of the Jamaica Diaspora Advisory Board, said Obama's insights on the immigration-reform agenda were particularly significant in light of the plethora of undocumented and unemployed Jamaicans languishing in the US.

"From an immigration perspective, that will affect us tremendously in our community because many Jamaicans are affected and it impacts the Jamaican population as many are parents with children left behind in Jamaica ... . (The children) will have an opportunity to now join their family," Beckford told The Gleaner.

At present, Jamaicans are the largest group of immigrants to the US from the English-speaking Caribbean. It is, however, difficult to determine the precise number of Jamaicans living illegally in the US because most assimilate into African-American communities.

Experts have suggested that given the high Jamaican illegal alien phenomenon, up to a million persons from the Caribbean island could be living in the US.

Admin should push ahead

Yesterday, Clare pointed to the change in demographics as it relates to the Hispanic community, as well as the "people of colour" who made a significant difference in the November 2012 presidential election as a "telltale sign" that the Obama administration and Congress would push ahead more seriously with reforms.

"We saw the telltale sign when the president, last June, made the decision to remove the threat of deportation that hovered on the backs of youngsters and moved towards some kind of congressional support, a strategy that is being followed by the Republicans in order to attract a share of the minority votes in the future," Clare said.

He noted that Republicans, former President George W. Bush and Mitt Romney (who lost the presidential election to Obama last year), both garnered 60 per cent of the white male vote.

"In the case of Bush, it gave him the election but in the case of Romney, he was not able to win the election although (he received) approximately the same amount as Bush," said Clare.

He suggested that the votes of Hispanics and "new immigrants" made the difference for Obama.

"One could argue that a debt of gratitude is owed to the group that pushed him over, and there is a recognition of the power of that particular bloc and what they demand, driven by the Hispanic community," stressed Clare.