Saturday, January 23, 2021

Jamaica: Deportees, families facing a hellish life

For the past three years Marlene* has been living like a fugitive. Gripped by fear and instinctively looking over her shoulder at every turn, she is mentally and physically fatigued at the hellish life she and her children are now forced to live.
Marlene’s dream world was turned upside down following the arrest, conviction and subsequent deportation of her husband. Now she and her three children – two daughters and a teenage son – are forced to sleep on a sofa and an airbed at a close friend’s home, many states away from the once-luxurious home her family once enjoyed in a gated community in the Miami-Dade county of Florida.
Her husband was the family’s main breadwinner. Marlene is now lost, terrified and depressed.
“Since he has been deported back home to Jamaica, his life is under constant threat. He is a marked man. I will be the first to admit that he was no saint and the way he made his money to afford us the lifestyle we had was illegal. Now we as his family have to be looking over our shoulders as there are bad people out there who will do anything to get back at him, even if it means killing us,” the woman shared with The Sunday Gleaner on condition that the identity of both her and her husband not be revealed.
Marlene’s husband was deported more than four years ago. According to her, he was held with an illegal firearm and illicit contraband during a routine traffic stop, and after his particulars were checked out by the Miami-Dade Sherriff’s Office, he was charged with gun possession in the carrying out of a drug deal, drug possession with intention to distribute and resisting arrest.
The man was found guilty on all charges and slapped with a 12-year sentence. After serving his time, he was scooped up by United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers, who transferred him to the Krome Detention Center in Florida where he was processed for deportation. He was unceremoniously shipped back to Jamaica in a couple months.
According to figures released by ICE, in 2019 there were 751 Jamaicans removed from the United States. Of those, 665 have criminal convictions or are pending criminal charges.
That figure represents just 2.8 per cent of the 267,000 persons who were removed from the US last year.
In the previous year, there were 792 Jamaicans removed from the United States. Of those, 695 have criminal convictions or are pending criminal charges.
Among those deported in 2018 was reggae star Buju Banton, who spent eight years in a federal penal institution after being found guilty of drug-related crimes.
Marlene was used to the high life afforded from the proceeds of the drug trade.
“My children went to a top school, I had my choice of high-end vehicles to get around, our house was fancy and we were short of nothing. I knew what he did for a living but I was living good so it never occurred to me that one day things would coming tumbling down,” she said.
After her husband’s conviction, Marlene said she began getting regular threats against her life by men who claimed her man had left them out of pocket because of drugs that he had been in possession of at the time of his arrest. The men, she said, demanded payment and threatened dire consequences if their demands were not met.
“I had a little savings put away so when I realised that the men were out for blood, I packed up and left like a thief in the night. Even though years have passed, I am still afraid,” the woman shared, as her voice cracked.
“I was never employed, as my man took care of everything. Now I am forced to seek employment in the retail industry to keep my kids fed. Trying to get my life back together has not been easy. I wore the most expensive clothes, ate at the best restaurants and now I can barely scrape through. I have to pay for my keep, and even though my friend has not said it to my face, I know I have overstayed my welcome and am preparing to get my own place as soon as I save enough.”
Also deported in the last few years was former under-20 Jamaican footballer, Dwayne ‘Boukie’ Richards. Richards’ journey from being a robust player with a bright future to serving time in a US federal prison has all the markings of a deportee’s depression.
After being found guilty and sentenced on drug-related charges, Richards was ferried back to his homeland with the possession he entered the prison system with. But life in Jamaica was not suited for the former striker and as the months passed and the addiction of life in the US set in, he concocted and successfully managed to find himself back on American soil, albeit by nefarious means.
He managed to stay below the radar for some time and even struck up a relationship with a Caucasian woman in eastern US.
Life was going well for the young man, who thought he was being given a second bite of the apple – the American dream. But things came crashing down one day after his spouse called the police and accused him of assault.
The former footballer was taken into custody and soon the authorities discovered that he was in fact a deportee who had re-entered the country illegally.
In addition to being sentenced for assault and battery, Richards will serve a minimum of 28 months for the crime of illegal re-entry.
A Federal Bureau of Prisons website has his release date from the Fort Dix prison in Texas as October 2026. After which he will again be deported to Jamaica.
Convicted Clansman boss, Tesha Miller, was also deported from the United States after being found with an assault rifle in a Florida apartment. He, too, was sentenced for illegal re-entry into the US in addition to the firearm charge.
Marlene’s story mirrors that of many Jamaicans living in the US.
“I am not the only one who has to live this reality. I know a woman who has been having problems with her son who has no father figure to keep him out of certain lifestyles, because the father was deported. He is heading down a slippery slope but cannot be deported as he is a born American,” she said.
Marlene had a word of warning for Jamaicans who get the opportunity to seek a better life in the US. Noting that often it takes great sacrifice of their relatives who pay big to file for them to acquire permanent resident status, she said it was a slap in the face when that sacrifice is taken for granted.
Her husband, she said, was one of those children. His mother had filed for him and for a while he delivered good grades and seemed destined to repay his mother’s financial and emotional investment, until he started moving with the wrong crowd and found himself in too deep. His mistake was to neglect filing for his citizenship, and thought being a green card holder was enough to ensure his permanent residence.
“I have seen women work three and four jobs to ensure that their children join them. Some endure terrible working conditions and subject themselves to abusive relationships just for their children. These same children come here and take things for granted, get involved in drugs and other crimes. They get into the prison system and before you know it, they are back in Jamaica with the clothes on their back. Be careful when you come to America,” she warned.

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