Hope in the Hopelessness of Deportation

By Julianne Hing Jun 14, 2009

ColorLines magazine is in Jamaica this week investigating the devastating effect of American deportation policies on families. Check back for more updates soon. We’ve talked with a lot of deportees in Kingston since we arrived earlier this week. Even for folks who’ve been back for a while, many hold onto hope that they’ll be able to return to the States, even though some have been here for years and the chance of appeal is slim. One man I spoke to on Friday has been back in Kingston for over fifteen years. He has two kids. Rodney is 10 and Zanya is 7, and he’s got another baby on the way. But he yearns to return to the U.S. The word on the street is that there is a way to return to the U.S. The I-212 waiver, people say, is the way back in. One man, they remember, was able to get back on the I-212 waiver. Not too many know, not too many share the information beyond their own networks of close friends. But there is the possibility. It seemed impossible to me; perhaps these men had heard wrong? Or perhaps they’d gotten outdated information in a system whose laws are notoriously complex and constantly changing? Many deportees have had to become their own legal advocates because so many lawyers they’ve turned to for advice rip them off or don’t know the system themselves and lead them astray. I thought maybe these men had gotten bad legal advice. I thought the I-212 waiver didn’t exist. It was a certainty that should probably just have been called cynicism; I feel like for people who’ve already been deported, they probably will never see any justice. But then I found out the I-212 is real, and still in use. Except it’s only available for a tiny few of cases. It’s granted to deportees who have direct family members—no second cousins allowed—in the U.S. willing to sponsor them. It’s for people that have committed crimes of moral turpitude that are not aggravated felonies. That is, people who were convicted of crimes that did not result in a sentence of more than a year. So we’re talking robbery, shoplifting, smaller property crimes. Except the I-212 waiver excludes drug crimes. So even if you were convicted of a relatively minor drug crime like possession of a bit of cocaine you’re out. Even the possession of drug paraphernalia, a syringe, for example, makes you ineligible for the I-212. But the vast majority of people deported to Jamaica for criminal convictions—over 70 percent—are deported because of drug offenses. And we all know that Black men at every stage of the game are stopped, arrested, convicted, and sentenced more harshly for drug crimes than their white counterparts. And so Black men who aren’t citizens become automatically deportable at a higher rate than, say, their white immigrant drug crime-committing counterparts. The law itself might not have racist intentions, but its outcomes make it so that people of color are hurt worse. I see that at so many stages of the criminal justice and immigration systems, and I see it even here, with the I-212, the one distant light many deportees hang their hopes on. You know what else they’re holding out hope for? President Obama. These deportees are looking forward to upcoming immigration reform in the U.S. They want to know what Obama’s going to do to help them get back to the lives they were forced to leave behind. What is the power of the I-212 rumor? I suppose hoping is the way we make it through awful situations. For many deportees, believing in the possibility of justice—be it in the form of the I-212 or the president, is how they survive.