The Village

  • Undocumented Immigration Close to Home: A Broken System in Need of Fixing

    Jun 3, 2013. Written by Terrol Graham

    Last spring, my mother called me sobbing. My cousin was arrested in an embarrassing and dehumanizing fashion leaving work. His crime was being brought to Florida from Jamaica at eleven years old and having the bad luck of being pulled over a few days earlier for a faulty taillight. I go into shock, and after getting off the phone, I begin to do something uncharacteristic of me. I start to cry.

    Upon hearing the news I wished it were me. My cousin has not breathed Jamaican air since leaving as a child and is bereft of the familial, platonic and professional ties that I was able to maintain because of my ability to travel to Jamaica frequently. He is a Floridian, but claiming America as his own is seemingly off limits to him. After graduating from high school in 2006, his life had basically become the embodiment of inertia and shattered dreams.

    Our lives diverged. I graduated from high school in 2007 and was fortunate enough to receive a full academic scholarship to Wake Forest University. Five years later, I was living the American dream as a student at one of the world’s most prestigious academic institutions. He was living an American nightmare while incarcerated and languishing in a Floridian ICE detention center, and then transferred to Krome Detention Center. He has no criminal history, yet he was treated like a hardened criminal.

    The only person I could talk to was one of my closest friends, an Ethiopian immigrant and medical student at Yale. She had confided in me that her best friend had her American dream deferred at the end of high school when she was incarcerated for over a year then deported along with her family back to Ethiopia. I remembered our previous conversations about how she dealt with this and the concomitant guilt that comes with success juxtaposed against a loved one’s misfortune.

    Adding insult to injury, the same inept Floridian County Sheriff’s department that shattered my cousin’s life went to his home looking for him for missing a court appointed date for the criminal proceedings they initiated and as a result he was transferred from Krome to Miami County Jail. This was the nadir of an episode reflective of ineffectual policing and the loathsome broken American criminal “injustice” system. When I returned to Florida there were so many hoops I had to jump through to set up a visit to go and see him, to no avail! I embarked for Kingston to do an internship with the United Nations Development Programme working on human rights without seeing him. I couldn’t help but note the irony.

    I’ve spent the past few months paying keen attention to the ongoing debate on immigration reform (the Nation, National Review, Judiciary Committee proceedings on C-SPAN etc). One of the problems with the immigration reform debate is that there is undue focus on the plight of Latinos, especially Mexicans and there is an absence of voices from BLACK individuals from the Caribbean and Africa, particularly immigrants who will be affected by immigration reform. Recently, I came across a rather incendiary Examiner article titled “Black leaders slam Black Caucus over support of amnesty”. According to the article, BOND Action and other “black leaders” are livid that President Obama and the Congressional Black Caucus are pro immigration reform because blacks will be negatively affected socially and economically by an increase in legal “Latino” residents. Such sentiments are nothing but provincial and divisive nativism on the part of these “leaders”. Newsflash, Latino isn’t a race, it’s an ethnicity, furthermore, there are black people who are Latino and there are black people from the Caribbean and Africa whose lives will be positively impacted by immigration reform.

    My cousin had his first child recently. I’d like to remind conservatives in search of the political argument for championing immigration reform as well as those in opposition to immigration reform who tout family values, economic opportunity, and deride the unwieldy “welfare state” that opposing immigration reform is counter to these principles. If my cousin isn’t able to seek work, there’s a strong chance that his daughter will end up on some form of public assistance with taxpayers picking up the tab. Her disadvantaged upbringing will make it more likely that she will end up being part of the country’s myriad of social problems. Moreover, what legal and morally acceptable options will he have so as to adequately provide for his daughter? My first order of business upon returning from a year studying in Denmark will be going to see him, lighting up a cigar and discussing some business and professional opportunities with him as I have some entrepreneurial avenues for him and I to venture down. But without him obtaining legal status we are hamstrung.

    I’m not looking forward to the conversation I’ll undoubtedly have with my friend when she asks for an update on my cousin. Fortunately for him things seem to finally be working in his favor. No doubt she’ll be happy. But I won’t blame her for ruing the fate of her own friend. What about the youngsters whose American dreams were deferred and incinerated, who are now living visceral nightmares in places they don’t understand or feel connected to.

    The Senate Judiciary Committee recently gave its imprimatur to the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act and passed it on for deliberation in the full chamber. I’m optimistically confident that a bicameral immigration bill will ultimately become law. But, let’s hope that in further deliberations and subsequent consideration of the bill both chambers of Congress are not derelict of their duty to these forgotten young Americans who have been forcibly displaced and will find a way to rectify the neglect of an inherently stateless population that were powerless in being brought to America as children and such a shameful act carried out on those that were also powerless in being expelled.