President Donald Trump is pushing to raise the entry requirements for Caribbean nationals and other immigrants who wish to make the United States their permanent home.
However, Caribbean nationals in the U.S. are already reaching some of the more rigid targets the president is proposing at a better rate than immigrants from many other nations, according to at least one study.
Trump’s plan to “modernize” the U.S. immigration system, announced in mid-May, calls for granting permanent residence - and eventual American citizenship - based primarily on “skill and merit.” His proposal woos people with higher education and those financially self-sufficient.
The president said the proposal also aims to make the U.S. safer from illegal immigration, protect the nation’s borders and the American worker, and rid the country of undocumented immigrants who break the law.
“For criminals here we will ensure their swift deportation,” Trump declared.
However, the plan faced immediate backlash from senior members of both major political parties in the U.S., including Trump’s own.
Caribbean American Senator Kamala Harris, a Democrat campaigning for the president’s job, called the plan “shortsighted” because it would place heightened emphasis on educational standards of applicants, a points rating system and language and civics testing for permanent residence or “green card”.
“We cannot allow people to start parsing and pointing fingers and creating hierarchies among immigrants,” Harris, who father is Jamaican, told an audience in Nevada.
“The beauty of the tradition of our country has been to say, when you walk through the door, you are equal. We spoke those words in 1776, ‘we are all equal’ and should be treated that way. Not, ‘oh well, if you come from this place, you might only have a certain number of points, and if you come from that place you might have a different number of points’.”
Caribbean American Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, a Democrat whose parents are from Jamaica, also blasted the president’s proposal as “yet another attack on immigrant families.
“America has a long history of welcoming loved ones of those already here,” Clarke told Caribbean Media Corporation. “But the White House wants to end that practice, while also eliminating the diversity lottery.
“He (Trump) calls it a ‘merit-based’ approach, but we can see past the legalese. It’s another attempt to keep immigrant families, and especially those from places like the Caribbean, separated.”
U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, called Trump’s proposal “cruel and inhumane” and fellow Democrat, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, said Trump’s plan was “dead on arrival.”
Some of Trump’s fellow Republicans also viewed the president’s plan with skepticism. U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, said it failed to address undocumented immigrants currently in the U.S. Migration Policy Institute (MPI), a Washington, D.C.-based nonpartisan think tank, estimated that more than 351,000 Caribbean nationals are among the estimated 11.3 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. up to 2016.
“I can’t imagine an immigration proposal that does not include a plan for the 11 million,” said Graham.
Yet Trump has made clear he’s against more undocumented immigrants entering the U.S., and has disparaged some nations, including Haiti, as “shit hole”.
“Our country is full,” Trump told a campaign rally audience in Pennsylvania last month. “We don’t want people coming up here.”
However, MPI indicated Caribbean nationals are better equipped than immigrants from many other nations to meet Trump’s proposed criteria. Although “most Caribbean immigrants obtain lawful permanent residence in the United States … through family-sponsored preferences, or as refugees and asylums … Caribbean immigrants are less likely to be Limited English Proficient (LEP), have lower educational attainment and income, and have higher poverty rates,” MPI reported.
According to MPI, “approximately 4.4 Caribbean nationals resided in the United States” in 2017, “accounting for 10 percent of the nation’s 44.5 million immigrants.” Trump claimed 56 percent of those entered the U.S. “solely because they have a relative” in the country, not because there’s evidence they can contribute to nation building. He added that another 21 percent was granted “green cards” based on a random lottery system for “humanitarian relief.”
Trump called the current system, which he said forces some foreigners who receive higher education to leave the U.S., a “senseless rule.
“We discriminate against genius,” the president said. “We discriminate against brilliance.”
In addition, he claimed, many of those currently entering the U.S. as permanent residents are competing with Americans for low paying jobs, adding that “only 12 percent” of immigrants are selected on skill. That, he vows, will change.
“(Immigrants) must come through merit and skill,” said Trump while proposing a “Build America Visa” to replace the current “green card” system.
Priority, he explained, would be given to permanent residence applicants capable of becoming higher wage earners.
However, the president’s proposal is unlikely to become law anytime soon, especially since Democrats control the U.S. House of Representatives. It doesn’t address so-called “Dreamers”, meaning those benefiting from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
DACA, which is heavily favored by Democrats but opposed by Republicans, was implemented by former President Barack Obama. It allows undocumented immigrants, who were brought to the U.S. as children, to stay in the country legally, without fear of deportation, providing they abide by certain regulations, including attending school. DACA beneficiaries are allowed to work and obtain driver’s license.
At least 6,700 Caribbean nationals are believed to be DACA recipients, according to MPI.
Trump’s proposal also doesn't address temporary protected status. More than 58,000 Haitians, who fled the French-speaking Caribbean nation after a massive earthquake years ago, are in the U.S. under TPS.