Desperation increasing
Fifty-three migrants died in a tractor-trailer as they attempted to cross the US-Mexico border.

On Liberty Island in New York Harbor, New York City, USA, stands the imposing Statue of Liberty. A gift from the people of France to the people of America, the statue, which was dedicated October 28, 1886, has become a symbol of freedom and a welcoming overture to mostly white immigrants arriving by sea from Europe.

The inscription on the Statue of Liberty is compelling for those seeking to escape religious, social, economic, and other forms of persecution in their home countries. "Give me your tired, your poor; your huddled masses yearning to breathe free; the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the hopeless tempest-tossed to me."

The 53 souls discovered on June 27, 2022 huddled in a tractor-trailer container, left by smugglers to a slow and horrible death in the sweltering heat in San Antonio, Texas, near the Mexican-Texas border may not have been aware of the inscription on the Statue of Liberty, but they came anyhow in a desperate bid to escape a life sentence of poverty, crime, and political malfeasance to find a better life in an America that has grown unreceptive and highly selective toward immigrants, especially brown and black people.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that an increasing number of Jamaicans are attempting to enter the United States via the US-Mexico border.

Reminiscent of the so-called Underground Railroad, a network of clandestine routes used by African Americans to escape from slave plantation in the Southern states to the relative freedom in the northern states and Canada in the late 18th century, the escape route for undocumented immigrants from the Caribbean and Latin America runs through Central American countries, like Mexico, that share a common border with their destination of choice, the United States.

The land route is no less treacherous than those used by runaway slaves more than 300 years ago in pre-Civil War America. A major difference then is that good-hearted abolitionists, the likes of Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglas, would risk their own lives to help provide safe passage. Today, it's human smugglers, part of a growing criminal enterprise, with whom desperate and daring people attempting the nightmarish journey must contend. According to the International Organization for Migration Missing Migrants Project, over 6,000 migrants have disappeared or lost their lives since 2014 — 728 in 2021 alone — using the Mexico route in quest of the elusive American dream.

Shockingly, desperation is driving an increasing number of our fellow Jamaicans to see this as their last best hope to escape a country they say they love but see as "paradise lost".

Although not listed among source countries for large numbers of asylum seekers, such as Venezuela, Cuba, and Haiti, Jamaica, nevertheless, has one of the highest percentage of citizens who say they would leave the country of their birth for another country if they could.

One study, conducted a few years ago by an international organisation, revealed that over 70 per cent of Jamaicans fell in that category. Afghanistan, which at the time of the study was engulfed in war, was the only country excluded from the options Jamaicans desiring to emigrate would consider.

It should, therefore, come as no surprise that Jamaicans are showing up in increasing numbers among those attempting risky border crossings from Central to North America. Data attributed to Mexican immigration authorities revealed a sharp increase in travel from Jamaica to Mexico from a total of just over 4,000 in 2020 to more than 7,000 in 2021. The reported figure for the first three months of 2022 was close to 3,000, which, at that rate, would translate to more than 12,000 by year end.

The horror stories, such as that of a mother from a Jamaican inner-city community who earlier this year was separated from her five-year-old daughter, now presumed dead, while attempting the dangerous border crossing, are increasing. Exposing young children to the dangerous trek, which sometimes involves running from immigration and security officers, barbwire fences, and dogs, represents a new level of desperation among Jamaican migrants. One cannot be sure without supporting data, but among those who do it for the children there may be the tacit understanding that this could be a one-way trip for those who make it through, plus there is plenty of research and anecdotal evidence that the barrel children phenomenon comes with many risks of its own.

The practice of trying to cross undetected into the US, whether by water in rickety overcrowded boats or by land in containers made for transporting meat, which can cost up to $500,000 per adult and half that per child, along with the ongoing problem of human trafficking, pose a clear and present danger to many aspiring and vulnerable families.

The issue of migrants going missing or dying in pursuit of their dream for a better life has captured the attention of the United Nations General Assembly, which, in May 2022, reaffirmed, through the Progress Declaration of the International Migration Review, collective responsibility by member countries to preserve the lives of all migrants.

Yet another monumental problem for our beleaguered Government and public officials to contend with.

Henley Morgan

hmorgan@cwjamaica.com

Henley Morgan

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