Written by CAROLYN GUNISS
Special to South Florida Times
MIAMI GARDENS — Worried about the direction the set-to-change U.S. Congress will take on immigration and other hot-button issues, a group of professionals and retirees from English-speaking Caribbean countries recently came together and sounded a rallying cry.
There were no bullhorns, crudely painted signs and people milling in the street.
In the backyard of Evrol and Bernice Adams in Miami Gardens on a recent Sunday evening, the loosely formed group, called Caribbean Action Team (CARAT), staged its Second Caribbean Mobilization Rally. Its purpose: to advocate, agitate and activate people who hail from West Indian countries, especially when it comes to the political process.
The group said it is not motivated by the looming 2012 elections, though it showed plenty of concern about the results of the 2010 mid-term general elections which shifted the balance of power in the U.S. House of Representatives to Republican control. The Democrats barely managed to hold on to the Senate.
Rather, CARAT is more concerned with the lame-duck Congress and new policies that could arise and affect the immigrant community.
One issue in its sights is the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act -- the DREAM Act -- first introduced in 2001. The measure, supported by some Republicans and Democrats, allows certain undocumented students, who came to the US before age 16 with their parents, to obtain legal permanent status. They would be granted permanent status only if, over a number of years, they successfully complete several conditions, including graduating from college or serving in the US military.
The legislation, which would affect an untold amount of Caribbean children, is expected to be voted on by the Senate before it goes on holiday. President Barack Obama wants the bill signed by the new year.
Opponents say that Dream Act is amnesty masquerading in a different form and that the students will take resources away from law-abiding American children.
To combat an ongoing smear campaign against the act, Marlon Hill, partner in the law firm delancyhill, and a CARAT member, said information about the proposed law and its potential impact on West Indians will be given to community leaders for distribution to residents.
Hill said this is the sort of effort CARAT plans to mobilize in the future.
“The key thing is to act on issues that affect the community at large,” Hill said. “No one has a monopoly on ideas.”
CARAT held its first rally two weeks before the Nov. 2 mid-term elections. Jerry Nagee, a former journalist, said she was motivated to form the group after receiving many calls over the years to help people choose candidates for elections.
Nagee is concerned that many people from the English-speaking Caribbean come to America and blend in and become silent bystanders, especially in the political process.
A big part of the problem is the way election of candidates differs from what happens in Caribbean countries, she said. In those places, there are no judges to elect, for example, and candidates hold huge rallies to introduce themselves to voters. In America, she said, candidates present themselves to voting blocs. She said she had to beg candidates to advertise in Caribbean newspapers.
At the rally held Nov. 28, when Hill handed out the election results, Marcia Magnus, a Jamaican professor of nutrition at Florida International University, asked if he had Kleenex to go with them.
Hill discussed how some of the key Democratic races, such as Alex Sink’s bid to become governor, sank because of poor voter turnout.
“Sadly, too many of us stayed home,” Hill said. “People did not call their people. Everyone is responsible.”
Hill wants CARAT to concentrate on building a network of people to call during elections and at other times. He asked attendees to make a list of people with whom they interact and provide them with relevant information.
Hill also wants to politically educate college-age students and young people, such as Kamilah Ragoo, 27, who attended the rally with her father, Dave Francis Ragoo, the evening’s master of ceremonies.
Many impassioned speeches had the same theme: a need for people to educate their network of family and friends.
Magnus, who is a member of the Caribbean American Politically Active Citizens, publisher of the Miami-Dade and Broward Voters’ Guide, was concerned that CARAT doesn’t have an action plan. She suggested writing a letter and sending a picture to Lieutenant Governor-elect Jennifer Carroll, introducing themselves as a group of concerned citizens.
“We can talk about what is, what was and what should be, but the problem of misinformation and no information are too severe for us to just talk,” Magnus said.
For more information on the Caribbean Action Team, call Marlon Hill at 786-777-0184.
JAMES FORBES/FOR SOUTH FLORIDA TIMES. POLITICAL TALK: Attorney Marlon Hill speaks about the Nov. 2 mid-term elections during the second Caribbean Mobilization Rally held by the Caribbean Action Team at a Miami Gardens backyard on Nov. 28.