THE IMMIGRATION DEBATE: Implications for the Caribbean Diaspora – By Lear Matthews


Lear Matthews

By Lear Matthews

The recent media-saturated conversation about immigration has evoked widespread opinions and emotions, but the motivation and consequences that emerge are not new. Essentially, those who advocate a restrictionist view typify a throwback to a time when the nation was gripped by nativist and xenophobic practices.

The Immigration Act of 1924 was a response to anti-immigration attitude in the U.S. Today, what has been a topic of some national importance has become a simmering social issue churned by politics, economics and sentiments related to ethnocentric ideals. Added to this is the emergence of pernicious assumptions about race and ethnicity. Not to mention the fact that both Republican and Democratic politicians treat immigration like a political ‘football’ or ‘hot potato’.      

The rumblings over DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), Chain Migration (a slur in this writer’s view), the Diversity or Lottery Visa program, insistence on entry based on ‘merit’, and the symbolism of border security, are at the epicenter of the debate. However, these issues have become an albatross around the necks of those who genuinely seek to bring about effective, comprehensive immigration reform that would benefit both immigrants and the host society. The consequences of prolonged negotiations, characterized by mistrust and posturing can be detrimental.

A few under-reported facts are essential in this inherently caustic debate. Immigration contributes to population growth compared to natural increases. In the context of an aging U.S. population and shrinking working-age population, migration flows are not only needed, but are likely to continue at sustained levels. Furthermore, research has shown that immigrant flows do no harm employment prospects of Americans (Boubtane, et al 2017).

There is some confusion, albeit deliberate misinformation about what constitutes Chain Migration. It is suspected that the focus on ending Chain Migration is a guise to eliminate family reunification (established under the Immigration Reform Act of 1965), in favor of immigrants with “skills” and “merit” determined to be beneficial to the United States. To this end, the president of the United States created a firestorm by implying that “merit” should be measured by race, ethnicity and country of origin. In this regard, Krishnadev Calamur (2018) found very little evidence to suggest that because immigrants from Norway and other Scandinavian countries are white, they assimilated into the U.S. easier. He further notes, “Norwegian immigrants did so poorly in the United States that about 70 percent of them returned and stayed in Norway” (p. 4).

It is important to note that the terms ‘merit’ and ‘skilled’ are not the exclusive domain of highly educated/trained professionals, but include non-professionals and menial immigrant employees, who have been admitted to the U.S. from countries throughout the world. They too are assets, not liabilities to their adopted home, contributing to the economic engine of America. Ignoring this is a repudiation of the nation’s principles.

English speaking Caribbean immigrants are among the burgeoning numbers of people comprising the most recent wave of new global citizens to North America.  They have become a part of an expanding “West Indian Diaspora”. Information about their transnational experience, like other new comers, is subject to the perceptions, perspectives, as well as the biases, stereotypes and misconceptions portrayed by the media, politicians and civil society. One such impression that is framed by these forces is the assumption that political decisions regarding DACA and other immigration policies only apply to Mexicans and Central Americans. Contrary to this view, immigrants from other countries, including those from the English speaking Caribbean are also affected. For example, thousands of Nigerians faced deportation following the repeal of DACA.

If indeed, there is an increase in deportation and suppression of family reunification because of changed policy, not only would it be traumatizing for immigrant families, but also the social and emotional costs could be devastating and unprecedented. The increase in deportations to the Caribbean has continued under the present administration. When immigrants are uprooted and sent back to their country of origin, not only is family life disrupted, but children in particular, whose parents are deported face mental health and social dislocation consequences. As observed by B. Caldwell (2017), this is true for those who remain in the U.S. separated from deported relatives, as well as those who leave the country in order to preserve the family’s unity. Notably, the following deportation numbers for the Caribbean region in 2017 are quite revealing. Jamaicans 782; Trinidad and Tobagonians 128; Guyanese 137; Haitians 5, 578 (ICE Enforcement & Operations Report, 2017). Comparatively, in the first three months of 2017, ICE ordered the deportation of more than 1,200 Africans (S. Solomon, 2017).

The reintegration of deportees into the home society could be challenging. For many of them, there is the need to re-socialize to the Caribbean (home country) culture or introduced to a social environment they hardly know. Diaspora Home town Associations in collaboration with government and non-governmental agencies could be instrumental to the reintegration process. The response of Caribbean governments to this potential crisis will determine their legacy in the realm of humanitarianism for birthright citizenship.


Boubtane, P. (2017) Immigration, Unemployment and Growth in the Host Country. Institute for the Study of Labor.

Calamur, K. (2018) Why Norwegians Aren’t Moving to the U.S. The Atlantic, January 12th.

Caldwell, B. (2017) Children Suffer When a Parent in Deported, Whether the Children Go or Stay. YOUTH Today. November 27th.

Solomon, S. (2017) Deportation of Africans Rise. VOA, May 15th. Retrieved 1/21/18.

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  • Mark  On 01/25/2018 at 8:55 pm

    You forgot that until 1964, African-Americans were not recognized as legally recognized to vote.
    The Caribbean should respond to Trump’s racist Reaganomics Right wing Conservative immigration xenophobia by refusing Americans to stay longer than the required days on tourist visa i.e. no extensions of tourist visas for Americans.
    With Guyana making internet sensations over oil, I predict that millions of Americans who have no ties to Guyana or the Caribbean region will flock to Guyana in droves looking for a piece of the oil $

    • Ali  On 01/25/2018 at 11:09 pm

      You say millions of Americans will flock to Guyana to get a slice of the oil pie?
      What you smoking, dude? It will be a cold day in Hades when that happens.
      Where will millions of Yankees stay? The big Guyana mosquitoes will have a field on all that sweet Yankee blood.
      Will the orange clown be one of dem curious Yanks?

      • Mark  On 01/26/2018 at 12:10 am

        Exxon already taking over vast amounts of land at Ogle to construct a helipad, and a “hotel” that is rumoured to be 15 to 20 stories high. That’s twice the height of the Marriott Hotel!

      • Mark  On 01/26/2018 at 12:14 am

        What the Americans did to the visible Puerto Rican, African-American and Caribbean minorities in Harlem, NY will come to light once the Guyanese government allows unlimited numbers of Americans to live in Guyana under the pretext of the oil industry.
        It happened in Ecuador, Mexico, Chile and Brazil—-thousands of tribes were displaced because of American corporations seeking to profit from the resources of those countries.
        American Baby Boomers also cause real estate bubbles in Ecuador, causing a lower standard of living for the locals whose salaries don’t match the affluent incomes of American middle class retirees.

  • LM  On 01/26/2018 at 7:56 am

    Yes indeed. It is a known fact that since the 1950’s and throughout the end of the last century the U.S. systematically destabilized Latin/Central American and Caribbean nations to favor large corporations and hurt poor people, many of whom belonged to indigenous groups. Migration flows from this region must be understood from this reality. The conditions created by waves of interventions (military, diplomatic. and economic) and ‘structural adjustment programs across the region became the impetus for may to seek better life opportunities in countries such as the U.S., Canada and Britain.

  • Brian Dublin  On 01/26/2018 at 8:04 am

    I take note of Ali’s remarks but i am sure the present administration will be anticipating those moves.Remember we are EIGHTY THREE THOUSAND square miles in size,with a small population.

  • Chad  On 01/28/2018 at 6:43 am

    When Trump said Make America Great Again if folks are honest they knew he meant save American white culture, religion and from being over run by the browns and other nonwhites.

    Time to just be honest and stop pretending. When Trump said the Neo Nazi’s and White Nationalist have some Fine people in their ranks when everyone honest knows they are a Terrorist group whose goal it is to emulate genocidal maniac Hitler whom the worship makes them a Terrorist group, not to mention the acts of terror and hanging blacks from trees their Klan did to blacks and the murder of whites they labeled as N–ger lovers. That is all documented as a historical fact.

  • Chad  On 01/28/2018 at 6:48 am

    Yes worship of Hitler makes one a terrorist. If you doubt it try to put a flag up of Muslim Terrorist like they wave up Nazi flags and see how fast the FBI will be at your door to arrest you. Yet they can wave Nazi flags of Hitler the mad man who killed thousand of our American Solders and died unrepentant but proud of that, proving the Neo Nazis and Klan don’t really love white people. I doubt that white female marchers family of the girl they mowed down thinks the love white people.

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