October 17, 2009

Deported and Forgotten in Jamaica

Harold’s life never was supposed to turn out like this. His father was a chief accountant for a bauxite company and his mother was a prep school teacher. Harold spent twelve years in the military. He was a dignified man who found himself wallowing in poverty in his last years of his life.

When I met him, he was an emaciated old man, hungry with barely a bed to sleep on. His house had no light and no water, as he could not pay the bills. We met at his house, but he did not invite me in; he was ashamed of his house, mostly of what his house lacked. He did not have a seat for me to sit in, so we sat on the concrete stairs outside that led up to his house.

He held back tears for most of the interview, until he finally couldn’t hold them back anymore, and they flowed down his cheeks. The pressure of not knowing where his next plate of food would come from was too much to think about. Worse still was the fact that no one in the world seemed to care.

Harold is a man who slipped through the cracks of the immigration system. Had he been properly informed, he would be in the US today, with his wife and children. Instead, he is in Kingston, where there is no work for an old man like him.

Harold went to primary school in Manchester, Jamaica. He began secondary school, but never finished. Instead, he joined the army. He stayed there for twelve years, earning a medal for efficient service. Upon leaving the army, he got a good job with the government, driving a car for the Water Commission.

Harold had a sister and a brother in the US. They communicated occasionally, and came to visit once in a while. He didn’t maintain strong ties with them. In 1982, Harold traveled to the US for the first time, on a temporary visa. He traveled back and forth for a few years, working in the US for a few months at a time, and then decided to move there in 1988, with his wife. His eight children were getting older, and he wanted to be able to pay their school fees.

In the US, Harold and his wife had one child together. She was thirteen when I met Harold. Three of Harold’s other children were also able to travel to the US to join them. The remainder stayed in Kingston.

In the US, Harold worked as a welder for a company, making good wages. However, in 1994, he had an accident on the job and hurt his back badly. Harold’s job offered him fifty thousand dollars in worker’s compensation for his injury. Since it was a permanent injury, he thought that was insufficient and found a lawyer in order to ask for more. His lawyer recommended Harold legalize his status to make the claims.

Harold went to what he thought was a legitimate immigration office, and paid three thousand dollars for a green card. He was able to travel back to Jamaica to attend his grandmother’s funeral with the green card, so he did not think there was a problem with it. In addition, this was the same office where he had renewed his temporary visa on several different occasions.

However, his green card turned out to be fraudulent, and he was arrested in December 1995 because of it. In June 1998, Harold was deported back to Jamaica, after spending two years and seven months in detention, both fighting his case, and getting treatment for his back injury.

Harold lost his case and was deported to Jamaica. He had never been compensated for his back injury, as his lawyers did not complete the case before he left. They tried to get him to sign for eight thousand dollars while he was in detention, but he knew that was much less than he deserved for a permanent injury. In Jamaica, it is practically impossible for him to continue his case.

With an injured back, at age 63, Harold can’t find work in Jamaica. He is a skilled welder, but can’t bend over and is unable do the work. Plus, at his age, it is hard to find work. I asked Harold how he survives. He told me “By the grace of God,” and proceeded to give me an example.

The Sunday before, he saw a woman who works with deportees. She asked him if he had had his Sunday dinner. Recounting this story, he began to cry. It brought tears to his eyes that someone cares about him enough to wonder if he had eaten. Tears streamed down his sunken face as he told me that his wife and children in the US don’t even care if he has eaten, yet this woman did.

Today, his children in the US and in Jamaica barely call to see if he is okay. He has separated from his wife, and they don’t speak. He couldn’t keep from crying when he told me that his family rarely calls him and almost never sends him money.

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