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Caribbean Immigrants

Floor Speech

Date: June 19, 2018
Location: Washington, DC
Issues: Immigration

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Ms. PLASKETT. Mr. Speaker, as part of the Immigration Act of 1990, the diversity visa lottery was established as a way to diversify the United States. Over the past 28 years, the visa lottery has helped to fortify the image of our country and enlarge the greatness of America through the immigrant population. The Diversity Immigrant Visa Program awards up to 50,000 visas each year that presents permanent residency in the U.S. and serves as a pathway to citizenship.

The lottery has been imperative in creating new opportunities for African and Caribbean individuals seeking citizenship in the U.S. The proposed immigration bills today that will be coming to the floor aim to limit refugee admissions, eliminate the diversity lottery, and reduce the number of employment-based visas distributed each year.

As Americans begin many of the pastimes of summer that are quintessentially American--baseball, backyard barbecues, and family road trips--Caribbean Americans reflect on our contributions and the melded culture in the United States through Caribbean American Heritage Month. Ironically, the bills that are coming on the floor this same month will end the Diversity Visa Lottery Program, which has allowed many Caribbean people to come and be part of the American experience.

In a month of polarized politics and the Trump administration's assault on increasing diversity in this Nation, Caribbean American Heritage Month serves as a perfect counterpoint example to support the doctrine of Americanism.

Congress and President George W. Bush adopted Caribbean American Heritage Month in 2006. While the act establishing Caribbean American Heritage Month emphasized the present influence of Caribbean Americans, American history would not be complete without the integration and support of the Caribbean people.

From America's founding to the present, Caribbean people have supported and assisted in the creation of a collective American identity: the articulation of this Nation's rightful place in the world, its traditions, its language, and its cultural style.

From Alexander Hamilton, to American Revolution Haitian gens de couleur libre--free men of color--fighting troops, to slave revolt leader Denmark Vessey, to Colin Powell's shock and awe doctrine, the Caribbean emphasis on revolutionary and righteous ideals enforced through martial action have supported American ideals both at home and abroad.

In today's culture, many are surprised by the placement of Americans of Caribbean descent. They include former Attorney General Eric Holder to iconic personalities like Lenny Kravitz and Beyonce; economic minds such as Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta President Raphael Bostic; to actors Kerry Washington and Jada Pinkett Smith; to athletes Tim Duncan, Mariano Rivera, and Carmelo Anthony; to journalist Joy Reid and U.S. Senator Kamala Harris.

These scions of the Caribbean region are completely American, yet, in many ways, their Caribbean heritage informs and accounts for the attributes which have assisted them in their advancement and supported American greatness.

That philosophy is borne out with recent immigrants and naturalized Caribbean people. According to the Migration Policy Institute, Latin American and Caribbean people account for the largest percent of foreign-born military personnel, and that group constitutes 38 percent of all foreign born that are in the Armed Forces.

Additionally, according to the 2014 U.S. Census Bureau Report, about 66 percent of Caribbean immigrants and immigrants overall were in the civilian labor force, compared to 62 percent of the native born.

According to the Caribbean Policy Institute, Caribbean Blacks have labor force participation rates that exceed the averages for U.S. natives and all immigrants combined. The study from this institute has shown that, collectively, Caribbean people have higher median income earnings than all the immigrants in the U.S.

The proposed zero-tolerance immigration policy has resulted, as we have seen, in thousands of children being torn apart from their families. Children are being held in prolonged family detention centers, and this bill eliminates protections that are in place to ensure safe and basic living needs.

It is our duty to stop the separation of children. It is our duty to see that America remains great through the diversity that it entails. We cannot allow this bill to go forward, which would eliminate the diversity lottery that has created the diverse American culture that we have.

Through service, through ideals, and even through protests, immigrants have made this a great nation.

President Trump issued a proclamation on May 31, 2018, which stated that Caribbean American Heritage Month is a time in which America will honor America's long-shared history with our neighbors, but he would appear to be ignorant of the fact that it is not a shared history. Our neighbor's history is our American history.

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