NEW YORK NEW YORK: Deportees on the increase
There’ll be no let up in deportations.
That’s what Barbados and its Caribbean neighbours may face in 2011.
And fearing that they would be sent back home for early petty offences, West Indian green card holders and other legal residents are rushing to court, especially in New York City, to have past guilty pleas vacated on the grounds of poor legal advice.
They are stating that when their attorneys advised them to plead guilty to criminal offences they were unaware that such a plea could lead to deportation. They are acting in the wake of a United States Supreme Court decision in March last year when the top judges ruled that lawyers must inform clients about the immigration consequences of copping a plea.
Coming after 2010, a 12-month period in which more and more criminal deportees were evicted from the United States after either serving time in prison or for overstaying their time in the country, US officials in Washington are warning the current policy of sending back criminal aliens to their birthplaces will be pursued with vigour.
“The policy is in place and there shouldn’t be any illusion that it’s going to change,” said a Department of Homeland Security official.
That’s bad news for countries that range from Jamaica, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Guyana to Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada, Haiti, Barbados, St Lucia and others in the region, which have been complaining for years about the negative impact of the deportees on the crime situation in almost every island-nation and coastal state.
The figures tell much of the story. In the two years since President Barack Obama moved into the White House, more than 600 000 immigrants have been deported, some 387 790 of them – a five per cent increase – were sent back home in 2009. Barbados’ share of that large batch of deportees was less than 100.
During the first ten months of the last fiscal year 2010, almost 300 000 were evicted, 294 230 to be precise. However, while most of the 2009 figure showed that non-criminal deportees dominated the list, in 2010, at least 51 per cent of those sent back home were convicted criminals.
“We have never, ever deported so many people from the country as we are doing now,” asserted Douglas Massey, a Princeton University immigration expert.
Take the case of Jamaica, a country with one of the largest immigrant communities in the US. In 2010, 1 548 nationals were returned to their birthplace by the US, a less than ten per cent drop when compared with 2009 when 1 630 were deported. An estimated 1 225 Jamaicans convicted of criminal offences were returned home while those who overstayed their time amounted to 323.
The previous year, the convicted immigrants numbered 1 262 while non-criminal immigrants forced out peaked at 368, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) data.
Put on notice
But Jamaica isn’t alone. Haiti has already been put on notice, that the Obama Administration is lifting the suspension it had placed on deportations immediately after the devastating earthquake of a year ago.
ICE has confirmed that 350-plus Haitians were in the pipeline to be deported once the suspension was lifted in January. In all, at least 700 Haitians may be evicted this year. However, Haitian immigration advocates in Miami have warned that the figure could be as high as 3 000 people.
What has annoyed the Haitian diaspora is that criminal aliens could be sent back home at a time of a cholera epidemic which has claimed about 3 000 lives.
But herein lies the rub. The deportations designed to improve public safety in the US may be contributing to a worsening of the crime situation in the islands and territories.
Although law enforcement officials throughout the region, Barbados included, acknowledge there was a lack of hard statistical evidence that linked deportees to criminal activity, they complain that deportees had introduced a high level of sophistication to criminal activity.
“The advent of some of these crimes in Jamaica really took off when a number of persons were sent back,” Glenmore Hinds, Jamaica’s Deputy Police Commissioner, said recently in Kingston.
“One of the things we can safely say though is that over the past number of years, we have seen the qualitative improvement in some crime, attributable to the influence of deportees who developed their skills abroad.”
St Lucia’s Minister of Security, Guy Mayers, was quoted by a US news organization recently as saying that there was evidence that local drug gangs in the Eastern Caribbean nation were apparently recruiting deportees to exploit their contacts in the US.
“We are not responsible for them becoming monsters,” Mayers said.