July 3, 2009

Deportation Law Adds a New Dimension to White Privilege

My mother is from England. She moved to Canada when she was about eleven, and to the US when she was about thirteen years old. This makes me a second-generation immigrant. I have often thought about how the fact that my mother is from England has made the intergenerational migration process fairly seamless. Sure, my grandparents are British, yet there really is not a cultural divide between us. My mother still retains some aspects of her British-ness, like her preference for privacy in personal matters. However, I only have to think about our family’s migration status when I really want to. In fact, the first time I realized that I was a second-generation immigrant was when I was going over the selection criteria for the Children of Immigrants Longitudinal Study, and realized I could have been included in that study. I was 26 years old and I had never thought of myself as a second-generation immigrant before.

Since realizing that I am a second-generation immigrant, I have often reflected on how different it would be were my mother from Mexico or Jamaica, how much more salient my migration status would be. Nothing has made me think about this more than my research on deportations. This research has made me realize that if my brother had been born in Jamaica instead of the United States, he likely would have been deported by now.

One story that makes this point quite poignantly is the time my brother was charged with assaulting a police officer. My younger brother suffers from severe PTSD. Related to this, at times has anger management issues, particularly when he has been drinking. One evening about a year ago, he was out drinking and became upset about some personal issues. He became violent, and police officers intervened in the situation. My brother became verbally and physically violent with the officers. As a consequence, he was severaly beaten and spent three days in the hospital. In addition, he was arrested and charged with four felony counts of assaulting a police officer and one count of simple assault.

I heard about the incident and was very concerned about what might happen to my brother. I was sure he was going to do time – he had assaulted a police officer! Everyone knows this is a big no-no! A friend of mine who is like a brother to me had just been released from jail, after spending six months locked up on a resisting arrest charge. This friend of mine is a second-generation immigrant from Nigeria. He was out one night and got involved with a situation with the police. After a verbal shouting match, he was arrested, charged with resisting arrest, and eventually sentenced to six months in jail.

Later, I met a Jamaican man, Charlie Brown, who had been charged with resisting arrest without violence and faced much more serious charges. Charlie’s conviction for resisting arrest turned out to be a parole violation. He spent time in jail and was deported to Jamaica.

You might notice in these three stories that my brother is the one who actually had the most violent encounter with the police. He physically assaulted the police officer. However, he is the one who got out with a slap on the wrist. My brother got a plea bargain, where he plead guilty to the simple assault charge, and got one year of probation. My Nigerian-American friend spent several months in jail, and my Jamaican friend was deported. Deportation laws add a whole new dimension to white privilege.

Had my mother been from Jamaica, it is likely that my brother would have done jail time for his encounter with the police. As a Jamaican-American, he wouldn’t have the white privilege that I am sure saved him in this situation. Had my brother been born in Jamaica, it is likely that he would have been deported for this incident. As a black man, he would be more likely to have a less favorable plea bargain, and his conviction could have led to deportation. And, if not for this incident, then for one of the other brushes with the law he has had.

I am using my brother here as an example. However, I could have used myself. People can be deported for crimes as minor as drug possession and shoplifting. As a teenager and young adult growing up in DC, I committed crimes that would be considered deportable offenses. For example, I remember being at my friend’s house when users came to purchase drugs. Had the police raided, I could have been charged with a crime that would be a deportable offense. Now that the statute of limitations has expired, I can admit to credit card fraud and shoplifting, and even to assault as a young adult. Again, these are deportable offenses.

One of my friends who participated in these petty crimes with me was an immigrant from Nigeria. We had no idea that she could be deported for these crimes. We were just trying to keep pace with the fashion trends in DC in the 1990s, by any means necessary. Luckily, we were never caught, and she is a successful woman today. Her brother, however, was recently deported, as he had also participated in a similar scam in 1997. In 2008, he was arrested on his way back from his honeymoon in Nigeria. Six months later, he was deported to Nigeria, the country he left as a child.

1 comment:

  1. I just had a dream about Survivor's Guilt. I think it's a phenomenon that is very applicable to some conditions that can be created by our country's justice system.