Columns

'Icy' days in the US

Barbara
Gloudon

Friday, July 19, 2019

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Jamaica has always been a country of travellers. Our forefathers were brought here in the belly of ships as live cargo, taken from their homelands to build a part of the world they had no previous knowledge of. Throughout the 300-plus years of enslavement it was hard to put down roots. Ancestors were moved from plantation to plantation within our shores, and further afield to other countries as dictated by those who called themselves owners. When “Full Free” arrived, migration continued. Families moved off the plantations to settle in rural villages or to the bustling towns and cities. At least by then the choice was their own — even though where they landed was not always the best spot.

Fast-forward to the modern era, Jamaicans continue to move; seeking greener pastures or a new adventure, contributing to different societies in a variety of ways. We have gone to every corner of the world, but, to me, it seems the highest concentration of our travelling family can be found in the United States of America. Therefore, when news came out that the United States Government would be ratcheting up immigration checks and fast-tracking deportation orders, icy concerns were raised in some quarters.

Media headlines proclaimed that it would be a nervous weekend in several American cities where Jamaicans have settled. United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were expected to target at least 2,000 immigrants in 10 cities, including Atlanta, Miami, and New York.

Not all our brothers and sisters are in good standing with immigration officials in their new homeland. This is commonplace for a number of Jamaicans abroad. Many a special occasion here at home has gone on without close family in attendance. The question is asked: “What happen to so-and-so? Dem never come down?” The answer comes: “Dem nuh straighten out di paperwork yet.”

I reached out to a friend living in New York to get an idea of what he had heard. His circle of friends and family have settled their citizenship status, so they were not overly worried. He admitted, though, that things have been tenser since the Donald Trump Administration has taken over.

He told me that a schoolmate of his travelled to New York from Canada on the weekend and she said it seemed immigration officials were more “exuberant” (my word, not hers) in their checks of passports and papers. She was of the impression that individuals of darker skin tones (read: black and brown) received scrupulous attention at the immigration kiosks.

My friend informed me that, for the most part, if you are on the straight and narrow, even if you had stretched the length of your stay, it was not too uncomplicated to regularise your status. There were many hoops to jump through, and the filing could be slow and tedious. However, my friend added, “If you have any kind of criminal record, no matter how slight – dog nyam yuh supper!”

The United States Government has every right to make sure they controls who is within US borders, and if you want to be there you must abide by the rules.

Another friend I contacted told of a family member who lived in Florida. Every time she sets foot in a car she is on edge as she is worried that a routine traffic stop could become an immigration check and she will be back on The Rock in quick time. Her fear is not unfounded. Stories have been told of deportations triggered by traffic infractions.

Things seem to be very uptight in the “Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave”.

My New York friend went into more detail about what has been going on in the past few years: “Before, you never knew how some people felt about you. Now, they feel bolder in showing their true colours. Remarks about people from different races and cultures aren't so sly anymore.”

I asked how he dealt with it. How did he cope with those moments when racism rears its head? “There will always be difficulties and differences between us. Racism in America is not going away. You just keep your focus and do what you have to do.”

Barbara Gloudon is a journalist, playwright and commentator. Send comments to the Observer or gloudonb@gmail.com.


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