Thursday 19 September, 2019

'Mi waan guh home’; Jamaican meeting ‘hell’ after running off in US

That fateful journey to the 'land of opportunity'.

That fateful journey to the 'land of opportunity'.

A 28-year-old former university student in Jamaica, who spent his summer vacation with a friend in the United States (US) two years ago and opted not to return home, is warning Jamaicans to desist from illegally overstaying in that foreign nation in search of opportunities, including employment.

Roy Brown*, who requested that his real name not be used, said he has been finding it difficult to cope in the US since making the ill-advised decision to overstay on his non-immigrant visa.

“Right now mi just frustrated and want to guh home (to Jamaica). A nuh what mi expect, to be honest. Mi basically living in someone’s basement, getting odd jobs, like doing painting and construction in the days, and by nights, mi occasionally wash plates in a restaurant or sometimes mi clean the bathrooms at a motel… If I did just hear what my mother say and not run off, things would be better. I nah encourage nobody to run off,” the young native of Jamaica’s north coast said to Loop News.

The United States Homeland Security has reported that a total of 10,626 Jamaicans overstayed their US non-immigrant business/tourism (B1/B2) visas between October 1, 2017, and September 30, 2018. Over the period, 312,667 Jamaicans were granted entry to the US, and were expected to depart the country during that time.

However, based on statistics provided by the homeland department, it has no departure records for 10,242 Jamaicans (now classified as suspected in-country overstays), and 384 Jamaicans left the US after their authorised periods of admission expired (out-of-country overstays).

B2 visas, as well as B1 visas, are for visitors who travel to the US and plan to go back to their home country afterward after short-term visits, spanning three months or up to a year. Specifically, the B1 visa is for business visits, while the B2 visa is for pleasure, tourism and medical visits.

In an exclusive interview with Loop News, Brown said having been a student at a prominent university in Jamaica, he found himself in a financial mess after completing the first year of his tertiary studies. This prompted him to consider risking everything to overstay in the US.

“Why did I run off? ... I paid my way through university for the first year from money I saved up from working at a hotel, and it basically bruk mi. Being honest, I got assistance from my friends and some family members to support mi (at the university), but the (then) upcoming semester would be difficult. But I had made plans with one of my friends who I met at a hotel I was working before I started university, to visit her in the (United) States. So I went shortly after exams ended,” Brown outlined.

He explained that while there on what was to be his vacation with his friend who facilitated him, he assisted in her (his friend) father’s restaurant on occasions, for the two months he had initially intended to stay.

“The little money mi mek under the quiet was sweet, and I started to think in my mind that ‘If I go back (to Jamaica), I may have to defer my studies for a year and go back to the hotel industry, so wha the sense; just stay, earn some money, find a white girl (to) marry, get my papers sort out and I can always help mommy back home and set up myself as well,” Brown shared.

However, he was in for a rude awakening, as his decision to overstay in the US and become an illegal alien proved to be almost a disaster for him.

“Dem always say listen to yuh mother, because I remember her telling me, ‘Cum finish yuh business degree. Have faith (that) things will work.’ But I was stubborn and I think the US dollars fool me, because the money was good… And looking back, my female friend I was staying with fooled me too, because she told me that I could get a big position soon at her father’s restaurant if I worked hard. But after I made the decision not to go back to Jamaica, he started behaving bad towards me. He even accused me of stealing money from him. So after two more months working there, I had to leave, and my female friend started showing me bad face, so I had to link up with another friend I had in another big city,” he related.

According to Brown, an array of difficulties followed for him on his quest to survive in a foreign land far away from home. Among those was in his quest to find an American woman to marry.

Gun crimes, a feature of some areas of the Jamaican landscape, has reportedly been experienced on an even worse scale by Roy Brown* in an area of the US.  

“The guy I was staying with lived in a ghetto basically, and it was difficult really. All mi years in Jamaica, I never heard so much gunshot yet, and is up here I hear them at nights… I spent about six months with him working at a little restaurant at night and by day, we were on a big supermarket construction site.

“But the real challenge mi had was getting a proper female citizen to marry, even to this day. I have dated a few - both white and black Americans - but is like dem change up right now. They know we just waan married to get our papers,” Brown outlined.

Interestingly, the Jamaican said since being in the US illegally for two years, he has been scammed by at least three individuals who proclaimed to have had connections through which he could obtain his green card within a short time.

In addition, Brown said he has lived in at least two states in the US over the past two years, and has been moving in between jobs. However, he said that since February of 2019, he has been able to find three steady part-time jobs, and he is now residing with one of his employers in the latter’s basement.

“Since coming here (to the US), it’s the best it has been fi mi, but mi been through hell. In 2018, I was at one point staying at a shelter for homeless people. That is how difficult it has been. I had no relatives here and that is why I had it difficult and I am still having it difficult. Mi mother cry every time mi call her, because she a fret dat dem (US immigration authorities) will hold on to mi, but I’m telling her I will try sort out my papers,” Brown disclosed.

A recent tweet by United States President, Donald Trump, has heightened the fears of both the Jamaican and his relatives in his homeland.

The tweet, sent out from the president’s official twitter account, stated that, “All people who are illegally coming into the United States now will be removed from our country at a later date, as we build up our removal forces, and as the laws are changed, Please do not make yourselves too comfortable; you will be leaving soon!”

Coupled with that tweet, President Trump in April of this year, asked the secretary of state, in consultation with the attorney general and the secretary of homeland security, to provide recommendations to address the issue of undocumented immigrants in the US.

“Non-immigrant visa overstay rates are unacceptably high for nationals of certain countries. Aliens must abide by the terms and conditions of their visas for our immigration system to function as intended. Although the United States benefits from legitimate non-immigrant entry, individuals who abuse the visa process and decline to abide by the terms and conditions of their visas, including their visa departure dates, undermine the integrity of our immigration system and harm the national interest,” Trump said in a memorandum last month.

He said attention will be given to countries with a total overstay rate greater than 10 per cent in the combined B1 and B2 non-immigrant visa categories, based on the Department of Homeland Security’s 2018 report. Jamaica will not be affected as the country has a B1/B1 overstay rate of 3.40 per cent.

However, this is of little help to quell the fears of Brown, who regrets the mistake of overstaying in the country that is dubbed ‘The land of opportunity’.

The young Jamaican still remembers the stability and reassurance of a friendly gift of a hand of bananas on the 'rock'.

“I can only tell Jamaicans to learn from my story and just follow the visa rules and don’t run off, not even if you have family or good friends here. I had a good friend and was shown bad face and I had to struggle and do all sort of hard work I never had to do in Jamaica to survive. Right now, if I could leave and come home to my country, I would. I can find someone who can give me a hand of banana or a breadfruit to cook, or I can go shop to trust (food), but I can’t do it here in America,” he argued.

Not to mention two breadfruits to roast and feast on, especially during hard times.

Brown further lamented that: “I had no links and here I am undocumented and mi nuh know if when the forces finish set up, if they will catch me, so best thing to do is stay in Jamaica and make it. Mi cry daily just wishing I could come home, but mi here already and I have to just keep on working hard to one day sort out myself and become a US citizen.” 

In recent years there has been an aggressive clampdown on undocumented immigrants in the US. Along with President Trump’s recent order for his administration to crack down on "visa overstays" – foreigners who legally enter the country but remain in the US after their visas expire – a proposal has been made by the president that will include significant changes to the way green cards are allocated. The latter is aimed at boosting border security and tightening asylum procedures.

The proposal, made by Trump on May 16 at the White House, will include drastically reducing the number of family-based green cards, and moving towards a points-based system that will reward, among other factors, skills, education and English language proficiency.  

Under the proposal, according to US media reports, four million people waiting in family and employment-based green card backlogs would have their immigration applications eliminated even if they have been waiting in line for years to immigrate. This is to be replaced by a new “Build America” visas awarded by points.

The new proposal will increase skills-based green cards to 57 per cent, up from the 12 per cent of skills-based visas that are currently offered. The number of family-based visas issued presently stand at 66 per cent.

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