NASSAU, Bahamas — Proposed US immigration reforms could have positive implications not only for Caribbean nationals living in the United States, but also for countries of the region, asserted a former cabinet minister in The Bahamas.
"The reforms that offer a pathway to citizenship might be applicable to thousands of Caribbean nationals who have spent years living and working in the US and might be deemed entitled to regularization as citizens," said economist Zhivargo Laing.
Laing surmised, "The not insignificant Caribbean Diaspora in the US, estimated at more than 20 million, can influence US policymakers to take account of their realities in their reform efforts."
If successful, a bipartisan bill, introduced by eight senators, would allow people living in the US illegally — who arrived before December 31, 2011 — to become citizens after passing background checks, obtaining jobs and paying back taxes and penalties. The process is estimated to take 13 years; estimates place the number of undocumented immigrants in the United States at 11 million.
The former finance minister of The Bahamas said, "Not only will the lives and livelihoods of Caribbean nationals be changed by the immigration reform in the US but so will their home countries, as many of them rely on the repatriation of earned US dollars to assist their foreign reserve earnings. For some, these remittances significantly aid economic viability."
Laing, a financial specialist, warned however that "with the proposed crackdown on businesses employing undocumented immigrants, large numbers of undocumented Caribbean nationals may find their work prospects curbed by more than a tentative US economy."
Laing also saw other effects: "Policy changes do not have just legal consequences but there are psychological ones as well. Any tightening of immigration law at the state level might lead businesses, educational institutions as well as medical facilities to take a more cautionary approach to dealing with foreign nationals. As such, Caribbean nationals who are employees and patrons of all of these institutions might also find a less accommodating environment going forward."
"Immigrants have demonstrated their power at the polls … and I think America is moving in the right direction on immigration reform. What happens next? Time will tell," he concluded.