It is a shocking deportation policy that is costing Barbadians, Jamaicans, Haitians and other West Indians their ability to live and work in the United States, especially in New York City.
In the process, it is breaking up West Indian families and forcing a cash-strapped city to spend millions of taxpayers’ dollars to keep immigrants behind bars longer than necessary.
That’s why two prominent city public figures – Yvette Clarke, a member of the House of Representatives in Washington, and Scott Stringer, Manhattan Borough president – want Mayor Michael Bloomberg to bring the nightmare to a screeching halt.
Clarke – a Brooklyn Democrat who occupies a historic seat on Capitol Hill, first won by the late Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, a Bajan-New Yorker and the first Black woman elected to the House – and Stringer have vigorously objected to a policy which transfers immigrants accused of but not convicted of any crime to federal authorities, who then take them to detention centres as far away as Louisiana and Texas, out of the easy reach of their families before deporting them to their respective birthplaces.
“I find it quite shocking that the city would be cooperating with federal immigration authorities in this way by giving them access to inmates of Rikers Island [jail], especially since many of the immigrants are legal residents with no prior criminal record,” said Clarke.
“Rikers Island has a transient population and it is inappropriate for a city like New York, which for decades has been promoting immigrant rights, to be contributing to a situation which is hurting the families of the foreign-born who reside here.”
Stringer was even more direct in his denunciation of the city policy of cooperating with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency.
“Every year, thousands of immigrants being held on Rikers Island are transferred to federal custody and deported,” said the borough president. “Only about half of them have a criminal record, many of them are here legally, most of them have their due process rights violated, and all of them are subjected to substandard conditions before being returned to their countries of origin.
“The city has no obligation to hand over detainees,” explained Stringer.
Labelled “Criminal Alien Programme”, the policy, which has been in place for more than a decade, has given criminal law enforcement authorities the green light to exchange information with federal officials about the arrests of legal or undocumented foreign-born residents, regardless of the criminal offence they have allegedly committed.
What’s particularly shocking is the fact that the names and addresses of the immigrants are passed to the “feds” despite the fact that they haven’t been tried or convicted of any crime.
“Once in federal hands, most detainees are transported to centres in Texas and Louisiana, far from their families,” complained Stringer. “Conditions at these federal detention centres are worse than those at many prisons, with inadequate medical care and access to phones and legal materials. Detainees are subjected to abuse and sometimes even death; 107 people died in immigration from 2003 to 2010.”
At least three of them, including a Barbadian grandmother, were from the Caribbean and Africa, and they died in centrers in New Jersey and Virginia. The Bajan’s sister contends her relative’s life could have been saved if she had received adequate medical care.
Another thing: the city’s policy may be having the undesirable effect of deterring immigrants who have suffered at the hands of criminals from going to the police, fearing their names and addresses would be handed over to the federal agency and they could end up being deported. It may also be deterring witnesses from giving evidence that would solve crimes.
“It’s unacceptable that something like this would be occurring in our city,” said Clarke.
What’s needed is an end to a programme that’s fuelling deportations. At the heart of it is the Obama Administration’s overly aggressive policy, which caused nearly 400 000 immigrants, scores of Barbadians included, to be deported in each of the last two years.
“We are asking the president if he could provide some sort of relief to innocent people who are the most impacted by the inequities of the immigration system,” said Congressman Charlie Gonzalez, a Democrat of Texas and chairman of the House of Representatives’ Hispanic Caucus.
The president is facing re-election next year and must rely on millions of Hispanic, West Indian, Asian and African votes to remain in the White House and he should suspend the deportations, especially in cases involving convictions for misdemeanours.
Last year, on a case by case basis authorities opted not to deport 34 448 immigrants. It should expand that approach.