October 12, 2009

With Fourteen Years and Five Kids in the US, It is Difficult to Re-Adjust to Jamaica

Philip grew up in downtown Kingston. During high school, he ran for the track team. He excelled in running, and made it into a track meet in Orlando, Florida when he was 21 years old. He obtained a visa to participate in the meet. He saw this as an opportunity to escape the poverty he and his mother experienced in Kingston. As a single mother, working as a house cleaner, his mother barely earned enough to get by. Thus, after Philip ran in the track meet in 1994, he decided he did not want to return to Jamaica.

The only person Philip knew in the US was a woman he met in his neighborhood in Kingston. She had come to visit some friends, and they developed a romantic relationship. Once he was in the States, they decided to make their lives together and get married. Philip found a job at the Post Office, and his wife applied for him to get his papers in order. At that time, they were living in Silver Spring, Maryland. However, when Philip’s mother-in-law became ill, they moved to Boston to be closer to his wife’s family.

Philip is not sure what happened to his application for permanent residency, but it seems that, since they didn’t report the address change, his green card was sent to the Maryland address after they moved, and then returned to the INS, as they no longer lived there. He thus had to go through the application process again. The second time, he had a court date in Boston. On the way there, he was pulled over by the police, and was late for his court appearance. He told me that he missed his court date, and his application was denied.

Philip and his wife had their first child in 1998 and their second child the next year. Their second daughter was born severely disabled. She was born unable to see or hear, is confined to a wheelchair, and only eats from a feeding tube. Philip and his wife were not as responsible as they should have been with his application. However, it seems clear that Philip should have been given legal permanent residence in the US, on the basis of his marriage and US citizen children. However, he missed his chance to prove that he had a bona fide marriage, and his application was denied. He thus was ordered deported in 2002.

Philip was not aware of this deportation order, and kept on with his life in the US. He opened up a small vegetarian restaurant and also worked a musician. With the money he made from this, he was able to support his children. He had three more children, all girls. When I spoke with him, the youngest was two years old.

While on a road trip in the Louisiana, Philip was pulled over because he was the car he was driving had paper plates from another state. When the officer heard his accent, he checked with Immigration to see what his status was. When the officer contacted immigration agents, he found out that Philip had a deportation order, and took him into custody.

Philip most likely qualified for relief from deportation, based on the facts that he had lived in this US for 13 years, is married to a US citizen, and has a daughter who is severely disabled. However, Philip was taken to a detention facility in an isolated part of Louisiana where he had no way to plead his case. Philip had a lawyer in Massachusetts, who told Philip that he needed $3,000 to take his case. Philip did not have the money to pay. Philip never saw an immigration lawyer. After three months in immigration detention, he was on a plane back to Jamaica.

After being deported to Jamaica, he moved in with his mother in one of Kingston’s infamous ghettos. When I met him, he had been in Jamaica for eleven months. He still found it hard to think about anything other than the US – his family, his business, his life. In the US, he ran a restaurant, and worked as a musician in the evenings. In Jamaica, he feels lost and is unable to find gainful employment. His wife had to close his restaurant in the US when he was in detention, as she was unable to take on that responsibility. He feels useless in Jamaica, as if in a foreign country. Having spent the prime of his life in the US, his banishment is devastating. He told me, “It’s like I am dead.”

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