Deported, desperate, but determined
Parents sent to Jamaica go the extra mile to reunite with children in the USASunday, June 03, 2018
BY ALAYNE RICHARDS
HUNDREDS, if not thousands, of deported Caribbean parents are desperately trying to reunite with children left behind in the United States.
For Clinton, (not his real name) sheer desperation to see his injured daughter made him swim with sharks one night.
Clinton has been chasing the American dream since 1986 when he first left life as he knew it in his native Jamaica for the United States. By 2004 he was facing deportation, and was confronted with the stark reality of starting all over again. It turns out that back in the 1980s while Clinton had a dream, it seems he forgot to plan. So, like many before him have realised, life in the United States is not as easy as it seems.
Clinton was deported in December 2004, after racking up a series of charges that dated as far back as the 1990s. “It was actually small petty crimes, weapons charge, and assault,” he said.
Clinton, after being involuntarily returned from the United States to Jamaica, wanted to go back. However, he knew going back legally was not an option. “Well, after my first deportation I was back here in Jamaica, nothing was really happening, so I took a trip with the intention to go back to the United States through The Bahamas. but after getting jobs there I figured that it's okay, I don't have to go back,” Clinton said.
This time Clinton had a plan, but it was quickly, disrupted when he received some heartrending news. “My daughter was in an accident, her skull was actually crushed…she was asking me, 'daddy, when are you gonna come and see me?' and I tell her as soon as possible and that's when my journey began. I start to pray and pray that I could find a way back to the United States,” said Clinton.
Desperate, depressed but determined to get back to his then three-year-old daughter, Clinton accepted a friend's offer to transport him illegally by boat. “The trip wasn't a trip to take anybody over to Florida other than [me] because that they saw I was depressed and wasn't eating. They decide they gonna put some money together, buy some fluid and take me over to Florida and we make like seven attempts,” Clinton said.
Those attempts, he says were thwarted because the boat he was travelling in kept being spotted by the US Coast Guard. But one night Clinton decided, spotted or not, he was not turning back. “I was on a boat going over and ahm reaching 1.3 miles off the coast of Florida, the pilot for the boat went on his GPS and saw two boats closing in real fast and he says he was going to turn back. I could actually see the shore a Florida, cars driving,” said Clinton.
Again, Clinton had a plan. “I was prepared, I know that that water is infested with sharks. So I decide that night to tape the bleach to my legs and then I'd put some hole in it,” he said. During his many years living in the United States, Clinton had worked in the food service industry. “I had a restaurant and I had a 150-gallon tank with a shark in it; every time that I put the chlorine in to clean the tank, the shark go wild in it. It couldn't stand it and that was my main reason for using the bleach,” Clinton explained.
“I jumped off the boat and start swimming. After about two hours and 45 minutes of swimming I was supposed to be on Coral Spring — I end up on West Palm Beach. Three days later I could not move, my whole body was inflamed. After a couple of weeks I went back to New York and saw my daughter for the first time in three years,” Clinton recounted.
Clinton's desperate deed demonstrates the difficult decision thousands of Caribbean deportees — now called involuntarily returnees — face after being forcibly removed from America, the 'land of the free'. Many risk their lives to return to what they believe is a better one in the United States.
We spoke to Wayne Golding, Jamaica Diaspora Board Member and immigration lawyer of over 25 years about the illegal Bahamas route. “Some are successful in terms of trying to re-enter that way, but it can be tragedy. I mean we have had incidents where people drown at sea. We have seen people who think, being out of America is so bad for them they take these risks. But we discourage that,” he said.
In 2013, a boat transporting over a dozen Caribbean nationals from Bimini in The Bahamas to the United States capsized, trapping four Haitian women. All four died by drowning. The captain of the boat, Naaman Davis, was subsequently sentenced to 14 years in a US Federal prison. Three Jamaicans — Everton Jones, Matthew Williams and Sean Gaynor — were also sentenced for their participation.
Despite the perils at sea, deported Caribbean nationals are still willing to brave the unforgiving waters of the Atlantic Ocean to get to the US. For some like Clinton, the motivation is family, for others it is money — the financial possibilities of the 'land of the free'. But, with the tougher enforcement of immigration laws that began when US President Donald Trump took office in January 2017, do these deportees still see America as the 'land of the free'?
Clinton, who after risking his life to see his daughter in 2008, and was again deported for a second time in 2009, does not think so. “I'd advise everyone who intend to go The Bahamas to get on a boat and go over; it is not as easy as a lot of people will tell you. I'd advise you all who have the money that it cost to use it wisely here in Jamaica,” he said.
Glen (not his real name), did not heed Clinton's advice. Glen first entered the United States in 2008, but says he came back voluntarily in 2013. “The police dem did tek set on me up there, so me just buy my own ticket and come back,” he said. But like Clinton, Glen's desire to return to the United States was compelling. And though he says he was never deported in 2013, he opted for The Bahamas boat route rather than a traditional plane ride. In 2016 he says he paid US$5,000, was apprehended by the US Coast Guard at sea and was jailed in the US for illegal entry, but he still thinks it was worth it. “Worth it? Of course, only true we didn't make it. I love it, will do anything fi reach enuh,” said Glen.
Fifty miles, that is the distance that separates the western islands of The Bahamas from Florida's east coast. It is also the distance that separates eager migrants from their dream of entering or re-entering the United States, illegally. The route has been active for decades.
“Right now we believe The Bahamas route is a constant…it is something we're very concerned with. I think it's 157 countries that can travel to The Bahamas without a visa, so if you're looking for a way to get into the United States, The Bahamas may be that avenue,” said Captain Mark Gordon, then US Coast Guard Chief of Enforcement Miami Division.
The Government of Jamaica says that it has little control over Jamaicans using The Bahamas as a doormat for further immigration to the United States. They, however, declined to comment on record.
The Bahamas has acknowledged the problem and are making moves to clamp down on the illegal activity, but would not comment on record either.
This story was produced by Global Reporters for the Caribbean with funding from UNESCO'S International Programme for the Development of Communication. A companion piece will run on 18 Degrees North Monday @ 9:00 pm on TVJ.
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