J'can couple struggles to restart life in US after 2 years hiding from immigrationTuesday, May 11, 2021
KINGSTON, Jamaica — A Jamaican couple living in the United States are celebrating their freedom after living in churches for over two years to avoid deportation.
Clive and Oneita Thompson told US news agency WHYY that while in sanctuary, they forgot some basic life skills.
Oneita told US news agency WHYY that the first time she went to take out money from an ATM she was slightly confused, saying “'Wait a minute, what do you do again?' … I truly did not remember how to use my card.”
She said that sometimes, when she wakes up in the morning, she needs to remind herself that the family is free.
“I always have to tell myself that it's real,” said Oneita last week, about five months after US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) sent a letter saying that it would remove the last hurdle for the couple to get green cards.
According to WHYY, the couple had spent 14 years living in the United States growing a family and their careers before taking sanctuary in 2018.
The Thompsons reportedly spent 843 days hiding out in two churches in Philadelphia to avoid deportation.
They had originally fled Jamaica after Oneita's brother was killed and the family farm was burned, the news agency reported. The family settled in South Jersey with Clive working at a dairy factory and packaging plant and Oneita at a nursing home – but the US government never granted their asylum requests.
While in sanctuary, the Thompsons qualified for a green card through family sponsorship, but it didn't automatically grant them freedom, reported WHYY.
Now, they are facing new challenges as they try to restart their lives.
“All our opportunity was taken away,” Clive told the US news agency from the home the family now rents in Philadelphia.
The couple's house where they lived before going into sanctuary suffered damage from a burst pipe while they were gone.
Meanwhile, Oneita, who had been studying to become a registered nurse, will have to redo credits that lapsed while she was in hiding. Her nursing assistant license has also expired.
“Sometimes I look online, and I saw like people who was going to school with me and they already graduated,” she said. “It just feels terrible.”
The couple's work permits and driver's licenses have also not been restored and though ICE supports their path to permanent residency, they will have to wait on the US Citizenship and Immigration Services, which is the agency handling their green card application.
The USCIS website shows backlogs of one to two years for processing green card applications, and wait times anywhere from two to 12 months for work authorisation applications.
WHYY noted that early in the COVID-19 pandemic, the agency closed its offices and suspended certain services, moves which immigration advocates say contributed to more people losing status and fewer people naturalising.
Now you can read the Jamaica Observer ePaper anytime, anywhere. The Jamaica Observer ePaper is available to you at home or at work, and is the same edition as the printed copy available at https://bit.ly/epaper-login