Caribbean immigrants: The rush to become American citizens
By Tony Best
Special to the NNPA from the New York Carib News
As immigration reform efforts remain stymied by Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill, the rush by the foreign-born from the Caribbean and elsewhere to gain legal residence and ultimately citizenship has gathered steam.
Caribbean immigrants, led by people from the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Haiti and Jamaica, respectively, account for a sizeable share. Fifteen percent, to be precise, of the 757,434 residents from almost every United Nations member-state who changed their status surpassed the 100,000 mark, according to figures compiled by the Department of Homeland Security for the year 2012. By taking that momentous step, the West Indians and others earned the right to hold any job or elected position, except the presidency of the United States; to vote in federal, state and local government elections; don’t have to worry about a knock of the door in the dead of night; no longer be afraid of immigration authorities turning up on job with a pair of handcuffs; or be worried about being deported, except in extreme cases.
The Dominican Republic, which ironically took away its citizenship from as many as 200,000 Haitians who were born in the Spanish-speaking nation and lived there for all of their lives, saw 33, 351 of its own people became naturalized Americans in 2012. Between 2010 and 2012, almost 70,000 Dominicans took on U.S. citizenship. At the same time, 23,490 Haiti-born Haitians whose birthplace shares the island of Hispaniola with Dominicans became American in 2012, joining more than 26,100 who took that decisive step in 2010-2011.
Jamaicans too changed their status from green card holders to citizens in droves. In 2012, 15,531 immigrants from the English-speaking country became Americans, at least 1,000 more than in 2011 and 2,500 above the figure in 2010. Between 2010-2012, some 42,000 Jamaicans took the citizenship pledge, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
Sandwiched between the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Jamaica was Cuba. More than 31,000 Cubans stepped forward, raised their right hand and swore allegiance to the United States in 2012, bringing the total number of Cubans to 66,000 in the three year period.
Although the Department of Homeland Security didn’t provide specific figures for Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Suriname, St. Kitts-Nevis, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, officials in Washington said the combined total of naturalizations from those island-nations and coastal states amounted to at least 20,000.
The Caribbean immigration picture looked somewhat like this:
In 2012, more than 109,000 immigrants from the region received their naturalization papers from Washington; up from 79,820 the year before and 62,483 in 2010.
Between 2010 and 2012, the largest increase in naturalizations from North America and the Caribbean occurred among persons born in the Dominican Republic and Cuba.
Of the 10 leading countries for naturalizations, four were from the Caribbean in 2012 — the DR, Cuba, Haiti and Jamaica.
On average, Caribbean immigrants spent about seven years as legal permanent residents before becoming naturalized, compared with six years for immigrants from South America.
In 2003, Jamaican permanent resident immigrants in the United States totaled 13, 347 or two percent of the 703,542 foreign born residents enjoying that status. By 2012, they amounted to 20,705, also 2 percent of the global total which rose from 703,542 to more than 1 million.
Haiti has surpassed Jamaica as a major Caribbean source of immigrants in the U.S. A decade ago, Haitian permanent residents totaled 12,293 but by 2012, the figure had skyrocketed to 22,818 out of more than one million.