New York Congressman Eliot Engel and prominent immigration advocate Albert Baldeo appeared together last Sunday on a Talk Show about Caribbean immigrants living in the USA "At Home and Abroad," and condemned the recent draconian immigration laws.  Recently, the House passed the Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005 (H.R. 4437), and this legislation was the central focus of the discussion.

Both warned that H.R. 4437 is a disappointing, disastrous measure for ALL immigrants and U.S. citizens alike, which goes against the very concepts of family unity and opportunity America was founded on. "Everyone sees the urgent need to craft a more reasoned and sensible approach to fixing our broken immigration system, while offering an opportunity for success. H.R. 4437 offers no such opportunity," Baldeo said. Congressman Engel said that he offered an amendment to the legislation to grant amnesty to many Caribbean immigrants who currently live in the United States. Unfortunately, this amendment failed to clear the House Rules Committee, which issued a restrictive rule that disallowed many relevant and important amendments.

This bill contains draconian provisions including those that would: criminalize the unlawful presence of 11 million undocumented immigrants living today in America; strip the courts of much of their remaining jurisdiction over immigration matters; gut the due process rights of aliens, permanent residents and United States citizens; expand expedited removal; broaden the definition of alien smuggling to include family members, employers and immigrant advocates; expand the definition of aggravated felony; create new grounds of deportability and inadmissibility; increase mandatory detention; militarize the border; place limitations on eligibility for naturalization; and criminalize legal assistance provided to unlawfully present individuals. 

Representative Engel said "Caribbean immigrants living in this country are an important part of the American culture and economy. Just as my family came here from Europe to seek a better life, most Caribbean immigrants in this country came here for those same reasons.  Tearing these families apart with unfair immigration laws is wrong and not the American way.

My amendment would have allowed Caribbean immigrants, including their spouses and children, who have lived and worked in the United States prior to September 30, 1996 and have applied for an adjustment of status before December 31, 2006 to become permanent residents. It also sought to establish a Visa Fairness Commission which will study economic and racial profiling by American consulates abroad and customs and immigration inspectors at US points of entry.  The purpose of this Commission is to determine whether Caribbeans face discrimination when applying for a visa or entering the USA.  It also encourages the Secretary of State to waive the visa fee for those who are too poor to pay."

Representative Engel continued, "In Congress, when I first introduced this as stand alone legislation in 2000, I made a commitment to fighting for fair immigration laws for Caribbeans living in this nation.  Now that the House is debating the Border Security Act of 2005, I know my amendment would be a fair and needed addition. I am disappointed that the House Rules Committee insists on such restrictive procedures, which ultimately will hurt many Caribbeans who are seeking permanent residency. I will continue to remain a vocal supporter of these principles, and will vote against this Border Security legislation that will do more harm than good”.

"If these proposals become law, local police would be able to round up undocumented immigrants in Nazi style, depriving them of a hearing and the right to lawyer, and deport them without a trial," Baldeo said. "Worse yet, many attacks on immigrants such as the escalating hate crimes will go unpunished for fear of reprisals, and hospitals will refuse medical care to and rat out immigrants. If this bill passes, it would sound the death knell for immigrants, who come to America for a better life. It would send the wrong message to the rest of the world. America would no longer be the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave! It would no longer be the bastion of democracy. Let your Representative know that the House is heading down a misguided path, and urge your Senators and Representative to support a realistic, comprehensive approach to immigration reform. HR 4437 is the wrong solution to our immigration challenges, and people should come forward to defeat it. Please use this as a sample letter if you wish to write to your Congressperson. You will also be able to find out the name and coordinates of your elected officials by calling the capital switchboard at 202-225-3121," Baldeo urged.

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