September 23, 2009

With endless appeal process, father of 12 children signs deportation order

Elias grew up in St. Thomas, Jamaica. When he was about five, his mother traveled to the US to seek a better life for her and her family, leaving Elias with his stepfather and his grandmother. Elias’s mother sent him money and toys from America. When he was 13, she finally sent for him and his stepfather.

Elias arrived in Brooklyn, New York in the early 1980s. Like many Jamaicans who arrived in Brooklyn, it was not as nice as he expected – the streets were dirty and there was a lot of crime. Elias went into the eighth grade, and did fairly well in school. While in high school, he got a job in a restaurant, and worked there until he graduated.

Not too long after graduation, Elias got his girlfriend pregnant. It was around 1985, and opportunities to sell marijuana for extra cash were plentiful in Brooklyn. Two months after he started selling dime bags, however, Elias was arrested. That was in 1986. He sold a dime bag to an undercover officer. He did not go to jail, but had to pay a fine of $50. Elias avoided getting in trouble with the law for the next twenty years.

Elias worked in construction when he could find work. But, he was disabled and not always able to find steady work. In 1988, Elias was shot seventeen times in the Bronx. It is amazing he survived. He told me that another Jamaican thought that he had robbed him, and had him shot in revenge. A few weeks later, they found out he was innocent and didn’t bother him any more. Elias still walks with a limp to this day.

One day in 2006, Elias was walking past a barber shop in Brooklyn when a friend asked him to take a bag of baby wipes and diapers to his baby’s mother across town. Elias agreed to do it and hopped into a cab. Shortly thereafter, a police car turned on its siren and pulled the cab over. Elias looked into the bag and saw that the bag didn’t have baby wipes in it – it had fourteen rocks of crack cocaine. Elias was arrested and sentenced to eighteen months in prison. The owner of the bag and the baby mother both testified in court that it was not Elias’s bag. Nevertheless, after several court dates and appeals, Elias was found guilty.

After serving his eighteen months, he was ordered deported. Elias spent eleven months in detention trying to get his charge overturned, until he finally gave up while the appeal was still underway. He had been in the US since he was thirteen years old, and had no ties to Jamaica. He didn’t want his twelve children to grow up without a father present. But, he was tired of being locked up and agreed to be deported.

Elias had twelve children in the US, aged from eleven to twenty-four years old. He was living with three of them when he got locked up, but saw all of them on a regular basis. On weekends, they would go to the park and the movies.

Elias’s mobility is limited. He has a shattered hip bone from the shooting. He is only able to do light work. In 2004, he filed for disability, and was awarded disability payments. With the back payments, he was owed $5,000 at the time he got locked up. The disability payments were cut off. When you get locked up, your payments are stopped. And, when you are deported, they are permanently cut.

Elias’s youngest sons took it quite badly when he was locked up, and even more so when he was deported. His baby mother married someone else and got on with her life.

Elias was deported while he was still appealing his conviction for the 14 grams of crack. He was actually deported on the basis of his 1986 case. Because it was before 1996, he was eligible for 212 (c) relief for that deportation order – meaning he could appeal it. However, he had to be detained while fighting that deportation order. Inside a detention facility, the only resources Elias had were those at the law library of the detention center. With a lawyer, Elias may have been able to avoid his deportation. But, he didn’t have the funds to pay for a lawyer. In addition, he was tired of being locked up. It had been two and a half years, for a crime for which he considered himself innocent.

Elias did not want to spend another year in detention waiting for his appeals to run their courses. He did not contest his deportation, and was sent to Jamaica, where he has few ties and fewer opportunities. His twelve children will have to carry on with their lives without their father present.

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