December 3, 2009

Ten years after his release from prison, Dominican who lived in the US for thirty years is deported

“Jay,” a business man in his forties, is one of the few deportees I have met who has been able to achieve financial success. Jay is a remarkable man, and likely would be successful anywhere. However, that does not make his deportation fair. He was denied due process at his deportation hearing, and summarily removed, after thirty years in the US.

I met Jay in his office at the call center he co-owns on the third floor of a building in the business district of Santo Domingo. The call center consists of a row of ten computers, each equipped with headphones with built-in microphones. When I went, there were four workers seated at the computers, taking calls for a payday loan program in the United States.

Jay shares an air-conditioned office with is co-owner and partner, a Dominican woman he met here. His sister is the third partner in the business. In the Dominican Republic since 1997, Jay has worked his way up in this country. He also has had help from his parents, who have retired here, and his sister, who is financially comfortable in the US.

Jay’s family migrated to the South Bronx in the 1960s. Jay’s grandmother traveled first, then his parents, leaving Jay with his aunt. Jay was six years old when he entered the United States as a legal permanent resident in 1968. Jay did all of his schooling in the Bronx, where he made friends with his Puerto Rican and Dominican neighbors. Jay did not complete high school, but got his G.E.D. when he was nineteen.

When Jay left school, he was able to get low-paying jobs. However, he was enticed by the quick money he saw his friends making in the Bronx, selling drugs. In addition, he tried cocaine, and liked it. He decided to start selling drugs, in order to earn fast money. In 1980, Jay and his girlfriend had a son. Soon afterwards, he was arrested for coke possession. He was released, and cooled off for a bit. However, the lure of the money and of cocaine proved to be too much for him, and, eventually, he was back selling.

In 1983, Jay was arrested with 125 grams of cocaine. He was convicted of possession with intent to sell, and was sentenced to five years in prison. While in prison, he married his girlfriend and began to take college courses. When he was released in 1987, Jay found a job in retain, and soon became a manager. A couple of years later, Jay and his wife decided to relocate to Massachusetts, to start their lives over.

Jay found a job with Coca-Cola, and moved up quickly in the company. He still had trouble staying away from alcohol and drugs, and decided to go into rehab. While in rehab, Jay connected with a variety of community leaders. They recognized his ability to connect with youth and his passion for his community, and gave him a job at a community organization when he got out of rehab. Around the same time, Jay and his wife had their second son.

After many years, things were going well for Jay. He became the director of a local AIDS prevention organization, and volunteered counseling youth about drug abuse prevention. He had been clean for three years, and had found his passion. Jay loved doing community work, and was good at it.

Since Jay had been released from prison in 1987, he had been on bail from the INS, pending his immigration hearing. According to the laws in 1987, he was eligible for a hearing where the judge would look at his case, and his family and community ties in the US and the Dominican Republic. For Jay, it seemed good that his case was delayed for many years, as he was amassing lots of evidence of his rehabilitation and reincorporation into society. He continued to wait for his hearing, and was confident he would win his case. His wife and children were US citizens. He was a community leader. He had no trouble with the law since his release. He was drug and alcohol free.

In 1996, a law was passed – IIRAIRA – that limited the judicial review of certain deportation cases. Under this new law, the judge could not take any of these factors into account. Jay’s crime – narcotics possession with intent to distribute – made him automatically deportable. In 1997, ten years after his release from prison, Jay finally had his hearing, under the new laws. He was deported to the Dominican Republic, leaving his wife and two kids behind. Jay had moved from the Dominican Republic when he was six years old, and had few connections in the country.

Moreover, Jay lost his family. Once he was deported, he eventually separated from his life partner of thirty years, and was unable to watch his children grow up. Without his income, his wife struggled financially. She had to solicit help from the government to maintain the household. Without Jay’s encouragement and support, his son never went to college. Jay talked to them on the phone, but the long distance put strains on their relationship.

Jay spent the first few weeks sleeping on a very old bed in his grandmother’s house. However, he was able to use his skills, his English, and his business sense to get back on his feet. He found a job at a call center through a newspaper ad, and moved up in the company. Eventually, he set up his own business, with assistance from his sister in the US.

Jay paid for his crimes and was in the process of paying his debt to society when he was removed from all he knew and loved. Twelve years later, Jay has overcome his losses. However, the losses to his family and to his community are less easy to assess.

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