US Immigration Laws Created “Deportee Problem.” Real People Suffer the Stigma

By Seth Freed Wessler Jun 17, 2009

The saying is widespread in Jamaica: “just like a deportee.” One might say of a beat up old car, “that thing is a deportee.” Something like a deportee is junk and this applies equally to inanimate objects and to those who actually have been deported. For these people, who by some estimates make up almost two percent of the Jamaican population, the stigma is debilitating and pushes many into homelessness and informal work because nobody will hire a “deportee.” The stereotype attached to deported people is that they are all anti-social menaces. Several high-level public officials we interviewed in Jamaica made the popularly held but fallacious claim that Jamaica’s crime problem can be blamed on deportees. There’s no proof that deported people commit crimes at rates higher than the general population in Jamaica. Even so, they are stigmatized publicly by the government and the press and in daily encounters on the street. Most of the dozens of deported people we’ve talked to on the island are silent about their past, maintaining a protective veil of secrecy. The solitude is thick. It’s often the case that we take categories for granted. But usually political categories are constructed by policies. Criminal deportees, who have now become the scapegoats for Jamaican crime, were named as such, and therefore constructed as real, by US legislation in 1996. The reality is that the “deportee problem,” as it is often described in Jamaica, is created politically. Yet in Jamaica, it is taken as fact and the effect is that those who are deported are stigmatized, thrust into abandonment, shame and economic crisis. Read these two RaceWire stories to get a sense of what it’s like to be deported.