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Public Statements

CBC Hour: Immigration Reform

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Ms. CLARKE. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to add my voice to the CBC and amplify the message of support for true and real comprehensive immigration reform. First, I would like to thank our newly elected colleagues, the gentleman from Brooklyn, New York, Congressman HAKEEM JEFFRIES, and the gentleman from Las Vegas, Nevada, Mr. Steven Horsford, for hosting this evening's CBC hour.

Mr. Speaker, I commend President Obama for his commitment to comprehensive immigration reform, and I reaffirm my commitment to working with his administration and our colleagues to make true reform a reality. Having said that, I want to challenge the President and all of our colleagues to expand upon the face and the voice of immigration, adding new dimensions to the unfolding debate.

When two major immigration speeches such as those that President Obama made in El Paso, Texas, in 2011, and last week in Las Vegas, Nevada, in Mr. Horsford's part of the country, omit the contributions of immigrants from the continent of Africa, it paints an incomplete picture of the idealized gorgeous mosaic or melting pot, if you will, that the United States of America represents. We must embrace the diversity of those who are impacted by reform and understand that this debate cannot solely rest on the shoulders of our Latino sisters and brothers.

The stigmatization of the Latino population as the target immigrant population has resulted in a skewed depiction of the true diversity of the immigrant population resident in our country. We have immigrants represented from almost every Nation around the world, and we must recognize all of those who are building communities and strengthening our Nation.

Since 2009, I've been working with my colleagues to diversify the voice and the face of the immigration debate. The burden of a broken system does not encumber one group of immigrants alone. There are approximately 3 million immigrants from the African diaspora in the United States, the vast majority of whom entered the country with legal documentation. The impact of immigrants of the African diaspora from the continent of Africa, the Caribbean region, and South and Central America has been massive in scale. As the representative of the Ninth Congressional District of New York, I am proud to serve a very significant Caribbean, South and Central American, and continental African immigrant community whose immigration experience is as diverse as the countries from which they've come. In fact, I represent one of the most diverse, immigrant-rich districts in the Nation, with people who have come from the Middle East, South Asia, Asia, Russia, the Eastern European nations. It's a virtual United Nations.

Many entered our shores with student visas, like my parents did, to pursue careers in medicine, science, education, and other professions. Many are proud business owners of law firms, restaurants, grocery stores, shipping companies, and hair braiding venues. There are those who come as asylum seekers, fleeing the tumult of war, famine, and genocide. No matter their reason for immigrating, they've come to the U.S. to be productive, taxpaying members of our civil society and to attain the American Dream.

Unfortunately, immigrants of the African diaspora, like so many other groups from around the world, are dealing with backlogged immigration processing; families being ripped apart; falling ``out of status'' because they have aged out of the legal immigration process; racial and status discrimination; unfair criminal aggravated felony laws that prohibit judicial review; deportation processes that violate civil and human rights; an insecure and prohibitive student visa program; limited access to work permits; and much, much more.

You see, many immigrants arrive on our shores during a time in their lives when they are the most productive. Any delay in processing these individuals, in bringing them to the fore, denies us the opportunity to access their talents, their skills, and their ability in the prime of their lives.

Additionally, African Americans, those descendants of the slave trade--whom I fondly call long-time stakeholders of this Nation--have been affected by the broken system as well. Working-class Americans of all backgrounds, races, and ethnicities are adversely affected with a broken immigration system. They are facing depressed wages due to unscrupulous and illegal corporate hiring practices. Urban communities aren't being adequately counted by the Census and other surveys, resulting in the reduction of adequate government services and Federal resources to meet the needs of the actual population in the communities and increasing the strain on current public services.

Urban communities are exposed to more crime, as the undocumented are more reluctant to report crimes; and African Americans are dealing with increased racial and status discrimination, as many are subjected to interrogations based on citizenship.

This is why, as a child of the Caribbean--second-generation American--and a sister of the African diaspora, I believe that it is my duty and that of the Congressional Black Caucus to ensure that the voices of immigrants of the African diaspora will be at the forefront, shoulder to shoulder with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the Caucus of the Asian and Pacific Islanders; that the voices of the immigrants of the African diaspora will be heard. We will make sure that this debate is as diverse as the population it encompasses.

The effectiveness of the immigration reform debate will rely heavily on the diversity of its support. That is why I call upon my sisters and brothers within the African diaspora to join with the members of the CBC, myself and our colleagues, in making sure that our voices are heard and our needs are adequately addressed.

Mr. Speaker, the time is now to pass a comprehensive bill that includes streamlining the immigration process, humane enforcement strategies that address the needs of children and other vulnerable people, use alternatives to detention, create enforceable detention standards, safeguard our investments in our DREAM Act kids, and outline essential due process reforms.

Our national security is at stake. Our moral standing in the world depends upon it. And the American people--many of whom are first- and second-generation immigrants--have demanded it. If we turn our backs on those law-abiding contributors to our civil society that come to our shores only to embrace the American Dream, to labor in rebuilding our great Nation, to strengthen our economy, to serve honorably in our military, we turn our back on ourselves and our future. You don't have to believe me. Just ask the people of Japan, where population growth has been stagnant as a result of a prohibitive immigration policy.

It is time for people of good will to stand for those who fear or are unable to stand for themselves. Let us stand together for comprehensive immigration reform.

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