How Jamaicans Are Being Erased From The Battle For Immigration Rights

How Jamaicans Are Being Erased From The Battle For Immigration Rights

A Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon is not your typical teenage love story. Natasha, a young Jamaican girl living in New York meets Daniel, a young Asian boy, on the day she is set to be deported back to Jamaica. Their instant love story is a major theme of the book, however, her deportation is the overarching issue, incessantly present in the back of protagonist Natasha's head as she tries not to fall in love with Daniel. Immigration has been a major topic of discussion leading up to the election of the 45th President Donald Trump. However, with more focus being on the effects of changing laws to the Latinx community; other undocumented Caribbean immigrants seem to be marginalized. Although Caribbean people have not been the face of immigration, this is our fight as well.

An article in the Jamaica Star revealed that over the past ten years, about 20,000 Jamaicans were deported back to the island from the United States. The Gleaner estimates that approximately 67,000 Jamaicans living in the U.S. are likely to return home as the United States cracks down on immigration. Growing up, stories of people who got “dipped” (Jamaican term used for individuals who are deported back to the country) were common, and years later more resources are needed for undocumented immigrants aboard and a yard.

Natasha is described a 17-year-old high school senior with a passion for science and hopes of attending a local college in New York to eventually pursue a career in physics. Natasha’s family came to America on a travelling visa when she was eight years old, where they plan to “run off”, (a Jamaican term used to explain undocumented immigrants coming to America who don’t return to the island after their travel visa expires). The family lived a low-key lifestyle for many years in the pursuit of the American Dream; for Natasha’s father, this is a successful career in theatre and better opportunities for his children. Natasha, on the other hand, is just on the brink of discovering her own dream.

Due to an accident, authorities were alerted that Natasha and her family are undocumented immigrants and they are subsequently sentenced to deportation. For almost a decade, Natasha has grown to call the U.S. home, but she soon realizes that this second home would forcibly send her back to the place of birth she no longer knows anything about. Though Jamaican by birth, she has to start all over again on the island where she is now a foreigner. Many others in Natasha’s shoes, though, have been able to benefit from The Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA), a program created to help undocumented immigrants go to college in the United States.  

There have been several instances where families from the Caribbean have benefited from their involvement in the program, in particular, the story of Jamaican-born, Ainslya Charlton who was an approved DACA recipient and continued her education at a local college. Shariece Wright, a young woman who has been advocating for herself and others during the rallies against the ending of DACA, spoke at a rally on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court in April of 2016. Wright immigrated to the United States at the age of four from the Bahamas. Over seventeen years later, she was still undocumented despite many efforts to obtain a green card. “We, as undocumented people living in this country, feel jailed”, Wright shared with NBC in an interview.

DACA was enacted under the 44th President Barack Obama in 2012 to help young people brought to the United States as undocumented children receive immunity from deportation and be able to start businesses, work, and go to school. To qualify,  candidates had to arrive in the U.S. in 2007 prior to their sixteenth birthday, have no prior criminal history, and be currently enrolled in or honourably discharged from school or the military; amongst other requirements. DACA allows young people to live and work legally in the United States, with the recipients being able to renew their DACA status every two years.

Obtaining a traveling visa is a coveted document by some Jamaicans hoping to experience life in other countries. Stigma surrounding deportation also places added stress on undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. and the U.K. Buju Banton’s 1993 song “Deportee” addressed immigrants whose criminal offenses lead to their deportation back to the island; however similar sentiments can be heard regarding undocumented immigrants who are deported home, and it is important to note that not all undocumented immigrants deported have committed a crime. A workshop conducted by the University of the West Indies (UWI) on men and women deported from Canada, U.S and the U.K. expressed that the word “deportee” had a negative connotation which hindered their assimilation back into Jamaican society.

Since the beginning of the program, there has been about 800,000 recipients and unfortunately, the current President has decided to end the program, putting many undocumented immigrants under its protection at risk for deportation. If the DACA program is allowed to continue, experts believe that it will help nearly 1.3 million young people stay in the country. Past DACA recipients have gone on to earn degrees and work in a multitude of professions. Young people, much like Yoon’s character Natasha, have been given the opportunity to work, go to school and achieve their version of the American Dream.

Jonathan Jayes-Green co-creator of UndocuBlack, an organization advocating for undocumented people of color, told NBC that their mission is to “blackify the undocumented immigrant narratives” as representation is needed during the fight against ending DACA.

While immigration laws in the United States change, it is important to support our fellow Jamaicans and other undocumented immigrants. “For most immigrants, moving to the new country is an act of faith… to remove yourself from your own language, people and country” (Yoon). Like Star’s Natasha and her family, many immigrants leave their comfort zone in the pursuit of the American Dream, but are greeted with the difficulty of becoming a citizen.  Here are some ways to help undocumented immigrants:

  1. Learn about Immigration Rights. The National Immigrant Justice Centre can educate you on how to react in circumstances where undocumented immigrants are stopped by the police. The Immigrant Defence Project also created a series of “Know Your Rights” videos that can help prepare for an encounter with ICE.
  2. Find out if you live in a Sanctuary City. Sanctuary cities protect undocumented immigrants from deportation. If you aren’t in a sanctuary city, work with local government to make your city a sanctuary city.
  3. Call your local and state politicians. The Global Citizen website has a baseline script you can use for what to say.
  4. Volunteer. Research local programs that assist undocumented immigrants in your town. This is a great way to interact with families affected by immigration.
  5. Donate. Every little counts in helping support these families. Many of these program use the proceeds to mobilize protests, sheltering undocumented immigrants, and lobbying politicians for policy change. Research local and global organizations to donate to like UndocuBlack that works to protect undocumented people of colour.

Cover image: Matthew Spiteri

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