September 30, 2009

Disabled Veteran Deported to Jamaica for Resisting Arrest, after Two Decades in the US

Caleb was born in 1964 in St. Thomas, Jamaica, a parish not too far from Kingston. He grew up with his grandmother, who worked as a domestic, and his grandfather, who worked for the post office. In high school, Caleb was a police cadet. He became a police officer when he graduated, and was stationed at the US vice-counsel’s house as security.

Through this connection to the vice-counsel to the US, Caleb was able to get a one-year visa to go to the US in 1985. Once there, he married a US citizen, and became a legal permanent resident in 1988. Soon afterwards, he joined the US army.

Caleb told me he was attracted to the idea of being in the military ever since he moved to the US. He recalled commercials he saw in the US that showed the benefits of joining the armed forces. As a temporary migrant, however, he couldn’t join the army. He spoke to the recruitment officers in town, and they told him that as soon as he became a legal permanent resident, they would sign him up. As soon as his green card arrived, the first thing Caleb did was to join the army.

Caleb dreamed of a military career, but was hurt during his military service, and had to leave the army after two years of service. He was in rapid deployment training when he was injured in a tank accident. He developed three hernias in his back, and was declared a disabled veteran. Because of his injury, the US military paid for his education, and Caleb went back to school.

He studied Computer Science at a community college in Florida from 1992 to 1996. Once he finished, he got a job with the City government. From there, he worked in several government jobs, all in the region, all in computing.

In Florida, Caleb lived in Avon Park – an immigrant community in Florida. He described it as an “integrated town” that was generally quiet, but had some issues with drugs and crime. In his neighborhood, people called Caleb “Soldier,” and often asked him to help with filling out forms and with their computers. In the neighborhood, Caleb volunteered at a local computing program in the evenings – a Head Start program. When Hurricane Andrew hit, Caleb signed up to volunteer with the relief effort. He also helped veterans at the hospital.

Caleb told me he often stayed away from Jamaicans, since most of the Jamaicans he met smoked marijuana, and he did not condone that behavior. He lived a quiet, family life, spending most of his free time with his family.

When I spoke to Caleb in 2008, he had two children – a sixteen year old boy and a twelve year old girl. His children had a very hard time dealing with his deportation. His daughter cried every night for two months when he was deported. Finally, the kids were able to visit. When they came to visit, and saw he was okay, they felt better. The kids have come to visit each summer since he was deported four years ago. Caleb spoke proudly of his children. His son had recently won an award for public speaking, and had traveled to DC to meet the president.

I asked Caleb why he never became a citizen. He told me he saw the only two benefits to becoming a citizen were that he could vote and that he could get a federal job. The cost was that he would have to renounce his Jamaican citizenship. So, even though he served in the US Army and wanted to live permanently in the US, he decided he did not want to renounce his Jamaican citizenship, as a matter of principle. He knew people could be deported for committing crimes. But, since he considered himself a model citizen, and someone who avoids crime at all cost, he didn’t think he had anything to worry about.

As a former police officer, a solider, and a college graduate, Caleb did not see himself getting into any trouble. He had never gotten into trouble with the law in Jamaica; in contrast, he was a police officer who upheld the law.

The first time Caleb got in trouble in the law, it was while he was stationed in Germany. When he came home to visit his wife, he was picked up by the police, and charged with possession with intent to distribute cocaine. He protested the charge, asking how that was possible. He did not use or sell drugs. The prosecutor said they had proof of his crimes on tape. It turned out to be a case of mistaken identification. Caleb was stationed in Germany on the day the tape was recorded. Although his name was cleared, this charge stayed on his record, and would come back to haunt him.

The second time Caleb got in trouble, he was charged with aggravated assault. Caleb was out with friends, and some of his friends were involved in a fight. Caleb told me he did not hit anyone, but was not willing to place the blame on anyone else either. He was convicted and put on probation for two years.

The third time, Caleb was driving his Lexus to his friend’s house. When he parked, a police officer pulled up behind him and asked him something about his tags. Caleb asked the officer if he was under arrest; the officer said he was not, so Caleb went into his friend’s house. When he came out of his friend’s house, the car was gone. The next morning, Caleb went to the police station, and found that his car had been impounded. The police officer charged him with resisting arrest without violence.

When Caleb went to get his car back, he found that it had been badly damaged. The police had taken off of the doors and broken the glove compartment, presumably looking for drugs. They had not found anything. Caleb presumes that they did not want to be responsible for the car, so found something to charge him with.

When Caleb went to complain about his car, he was placed under arrest. Caleb was held in jail for three months as he went back and forth to court. He continuously asked about his attorney, but was not appointed one. Five minutes before his jury trial, he met his court-appointed lawyer for the first time. She asked him about his case. Given the fact that the case was going to trial in the next few minutes, Caleb decided he would rather represent himself. He told his side of the story, but the jury found that he had left the scene, which is grounds for resisting arrest without violence. The jury found him guilty, and the judge sentenced him to nine months in jail.

From there, Caleb had to go to court for the violation of probation. The judge sentenced him to forty-six months in prison for the violation of probation. After doing his time, Caleb was deported to Jamaica, the land he had left twenty years before.

Back in Jamaica, despite his college education and years of experience, Caleb has not been able to find work. In Jamaica, the stigma of “deportee” is hard to beat, and makes it difficult for Caleb to find employment.

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