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Despite the expense and the danger, deportees slip back in again and again

By INGRID BROWN
Jamaica Observer, Kingston
Friday, December 18, 2009; 1:27 PM

KINGSTON -- Jamaicans deported from the United States have been risking turbulent seas and dangerous clandestine trails in some instances to return here, paying as much as $10,000 (about $870,000 in their own currency) for the hazardous trek.

A Sunday Observer investigation found that criminals deported from the United States for serious drug offenses and homicides have reentered the United States in a matter of weeks, despite several U.S. initiatives to monitor its borders.

Not only are Jamaicans being smuggled through Caribbean islands such as the Bahamas, they also have identified new routes to the United States through Mexico, and to a lesser extent, Canada and Switzerland, according to the Sunday Observer probe.

Glenmore Hinds, Jamaica's assistant commissioner of police, said that the Bahamas provide deportees an easy access route into the United States.

"At least $10,000 can get you there . . . because persons will travel on a vessel taking drugs from Jamaica to the Bahamas for about $5,000, and then the remainder will get them into the U.S.," he said.

But Jamaica's police are unable to say how widespread this lucrative smuggling trade is, because they do not know when deportees have reentered the United States until they are caught and sent back home.

It is not difficult to leave Jamaica undetected, Hinds said, because of the large number of beaches, fishing villages and operators of registered and unregistered boats on the island.

The migrant-smuggling trade continues despite efforts by the U.S. Coast Guard, which maintains constant surveillance and patrols in the coastal waters, employing large cutters, patrol boats, small boats and aircraft.

But this is little deterrent to those willing to risk all to return to a life of fast money fueled by the drug trade.

Tony, a Jamaican who declined to give his full name because he is in the United States illegally, is among them. He would only speak via the cellphone of a contact a reporter met in a New York coffee shop. He spoke cryptically throughout the interview, saying that in his "line of business one can never be too careful and must always assume others are listening."

The 34-year-old father of four U.S.-born children is apparently living large in California, having bought cars and houses, he said, for the mothers of his children.

There is no talk of a retirement in Jamaica; he has set his sights on living in the United States for years to come.

And if he were to be deported again, he said, he is prepared to reenter, as he has done twice before.

Eighteen years ago, he was sent to prison for seven years after a major drug bust and was later deported.

But he said that not even the horrific experiences of being stabbed and beaten almost to death in prison did not deter him from boarding a small fishing boat from the Bahamas to Miami three months after his return to Jamaica.

According to Tony, Jamaicans in his position never appeal their deportation orders, opting instead to be sent home immediately because they know they can return to the United States more quickly than the time it would take for the appeal process to go through the courts.

"It no tek no weak heart fi do what I do because sometime some of the same man dem weh a help yu come cross gwaan like dem waan hold yu at ransom when yu deh out deh a sea and a demand more money from yu," he said in Patois.

["You can't have a weak heart and do what I do because sometime some of the same men who help you come across (the border) hold you at ransom when you're out there at sea and demand more money from you," he said.]

The second time he returned to Jamaica he was not deported, but fled when he thought a dragnet was closing in on him.

He spent a year "cooling off" here on the island, and in 2005 returned to the United States via Mexico.

"That is the route which is really rough," Tony said with a chuckle, speaking in Patois, "because these men are not easy, as they will want to hold on to your documents in order to demand more money. But they don't know that Jamaicans are not idiots because we don't use our real papers."

Now, when he parties with bottles of Möet champagne, he is ever conscious that it might be the last splurge. However, he is just as confident that if he is caught and sent to prison, he can find a way to return to the bustling drug trade in and around Hollywood.

They 'will try to return'

Clifford Chambers, security attaché at the Jamaican Embassy in Washington, said some Jamaicans have been known to return to the United States as soon as two months after deportation.

"The issue of reentry is relatively widespread, and yes, some Jamaicans are going through Mexico, Canada and Bahamas," he said during an interview at his office in Washington's Dupont Circle area.

"They need to have money and also be physically fit to travel the route because they are sometimes left at a certain point and have to find their way across the border," he said.

Chambers said those who are smuggled into the United States also have to be tough, because the people helping them enter might withhold documents until they are paid more money.

Not all deportees who reenter the country are drug dealers. Some of them find it difficult to cope with separation from family and the loss of the lifestyle they enjoyed in the United States. Deported persons caught trying to reenter the country are treated more harshly than others.

Chambers said some are apprehended because they return to their former residences, and others are caught during stops for minor traffic offenses.

"The number of persons apprehended has increased significantly because of new homeland security measures, but you will find that the more you send back, the more persons will try to return," he said.

Statistics from his office show that 14,884 Jamaicans were deported from the United States between 2001 and July 2009. It is anyone's guess how many have returned. The new U.S. biometric identification system is said to be preventing scores of Jamaicans from reentering with forged documents.

Jamaica's responsibility?

Matthew Chandler, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said the multi-layered security system -- of which biometric identification is one part -- has been effectively preventing criminals and immigration violators, such as deportees, from obtaining U.S. visas or entering the country.

The identification process, which includes fingerprint collection, is used at all international U.S. airports and seaports and in the secondary inspection areas of land-border ports of entry.

Chandler said that since 2006, the Coast Guard has been using biometric systems to identify illegal migrants apprehended at sea off Puerto Rico and in the Florida Straits.

"The use of biometrics enables the Coast Guard to identify repeat offenders in real time using a mobile biometric device," he said.

Hinds, the Jamaican police official, was asked whether Jamaica has a responsibility to ensure that deportees do not return to the countries from which they are expelled. "No," he said, adding that Jamaica has no legal authority to monitor the movement of deportees who have returned to Jamaica except when they pose a threat to public safety.

Those most likely to be monitored under such provisions are people who have committed multiple violent offenses. Statistics for 2008-09 show that 70 percent of Jamaicans deported from the United States have been involved in offenses involving violence, drugs and other serious violations and 30 percent for nonviolent crimes such as visa infractions and illegal entry.

Basil Wilson, dean of criminal justice at Monroe College and former provost and senior vice president of academic affairs at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said deportees are finding it harder to reenter the United States with forged documents and are devising more devious ways to return.

"There is always going to be a level of skulduggery, but what exists now is minuscule to what existed before," he said. "Once, illegal immigrants could move easily back and forth from the U.S. as they would simply acquire a U.S. birth certificate and pass themselves off as an American citizen."

Cracks in the coastline

Curtis A. Ward, a former U.N. ambassador from Jamaica and an international lawyer, said deportees have several ways to return to the United States, including light aircraft that land on illegal airstrips; migrant-smuggling operations, some of which are extremely sophisticated; corrupt officials who help expedite the travel; fraudulent travel documents; and boats from the Bahamas and Haiti.

Although the Coast Guard has done a fairly good job of monitoring the vast coastal waters, no coastline can be fully monitored 24 hours a day.

"Smugglers are pretty smart and will find ways to get through the Coast Guard patrol. . . . It is not impregnable," said Ward, who argued that the cooperation and collaboration of the countries from which the illegal immigrants are leaving are essential to success on the U.S. side.

He acknowledged, however, that those countries must have the capacity to provide the appropriate level of cooperation.

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