June 25, 2009

Deported without a trial

June 25, 2009

I met Peter on his lunch break. He has been working for the past few months at a construction site at a local college. He’s hoping this temporary job turns permanent. Things haven’t been easy for Peter since he was deported three years ago. In a good week, he makes US $75. Other weeks, he makes less, or nothing at all.

Peter never thought he would be deported. He didn’t have any trouble with the law. He didn’t hang around criminal elements. He worked in landscaping, the restaurant business, a steel factory, and did house painting. His favorite job, though, was helping out a friend with his sound system, as he got to travel and see music shows throughout the South.

Peter’s mother moved to the US when he was in his teens, and he was able to get his green card and move to the US when he was 20. He arrived in Nashville, Tennessee, and quickly found a job landscaping. That was in 1989. Everything was going well for Peter in Nashville. He never married, but he had a daughter in 1995.

In 1997, he ran into problems. He got into an argument with his girlfriend. She was mad, and called the police and said he stole things from her apartment. Peter says she had lent him some money and had asked him to clean her gold jewelry. The total value of the items was $1800. She said he stole the money and jewelry. When his court date came up, she didn’t show up for court, but the state pressed charges. Peter was sentenced to eleven months in jail. He served part of his sentence, and was let out on parole. But, he missed an appointment, and had to serve the rest of his sentence. All together, he spent nine months in the country jail.

Once he was released, he thought all of that was behind him. It took a while for him to get back on his feet, but, eventually, he was able to get painting jobs and was doing fairly well for himself.

One evening in 2005, the Nashville police had a report of a robbery. Turns out Peter looked like the perpetrator, and the police picked him up. They quickly established that it was not him. Instead of letting him go, the police officer asked Peter if he was Jamaican. When Peter told him he was, the officer asked, “Do you mind if I call immigration?” Peter said he didn’t mind. He was a permanent legal resident, and didn’t think he had anything to hide.

The officer called immigration, and they said that Peter had a Notice to Appear in immigration court, and had not gone. Peter had never received the Notice. It turns out that his 1997 charge had set off an immigration warning. Peter was taken to the county jail, where he waited three weeks for immigration agents to pick him up.

From there, he was taken to a Corrections Corporation of America private immigration detention center in Memphis, where he stayed for six weeks, and then to Louisiana, where he spent three months. Overall, he spent seven months detained by immigration agents before he was deported to Jamaica.

I asked Peter if he was sure his sentence was only eleven months. He said he was sure. I told him that people can be deported for theft, but only when the sentence is one year or more. He said that maybe it was because of his failure to appear. I asked him if he had an immigration lawyer. He said he didn’t; he couldn’t afford one.

Peter may have been wrongfully deported. In immigration proceedings, people don’t have the same rights as in criminal proceedings. That’s why he was held at the county jail for 21 days without seeing a judge. That’s why he was never given a lawyer. Peter wasn’t even given a trial. He was simply detained, then sent back to Jamaica, the country he had left nearly two decades before.

Back in Jamaica, Peter had nowhere to go. His whole family is in the US. He hadn’t kept in contact with school friends. When he left, his friends didn’t have telephones, so he couldn’t call. Back in Jamaica, people in his neighborhood scorn him for never sending anything back when he lived in America. They look down on him because he was in America for so long and came back empty handed.

When Peter arrived in Jamaica, he had ten dollars in his pocket. He changed it into Jamaican dollars, and took a taxi to the neighborhood he grew up in. He found an old school friend, and they let him spend the night on the porch. He set out to look for work so he could eat, but found it difficult to find employment.

Now that he’s been back for three years, things are a bit easier. A friend of his is away and has let Peter stay in his place for now. He has a temporary job. But, the roughnecks in the neighborhood haven’t stopped hassling him. His place has been broken into several times. He said that whenever he gets a job, people ask him for money, but he barely makes enough to eat, much less to hand out to others.

Peter was a productive member of US society. He is a skilled worker and was consistently employed. He had a car and a place to live. Back in Jamaica, he is on the verge of homelessness and unemployment. Everyone who cares about him is in the United States, where Peter is not allowed to return.

No comments:

Post a Comment