Sat | Jan 20, 2018

Deportation crackdown - Fear spikes as US tightens policies on illegal immigrants

Published:Monday | February 20, 2017 | 12:00 AMSyranno Baines

Veteran immigration attorney-at-law Dahlia Walker-Huntington is of the firm belief that the Jamaican economy will soon feel the sting of the ramped-up deportation exercises currently taking place in the United States.

The heightened fear of deportation within immigrant communities comes on the heels of Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly signing a pair of memos that empower federal authorities to more aggressively detain and deport illegal immigrants within the US.

The documents also instruct agency chiefs to recruit an additional 10,000 Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to crackdown on illegal immigrants.

Quoting statistics from a study conducted by the migration policy institute, Walker-Huntington has pointed to approximately 65,000-67,000 Jamaicans residing in the US illegally and has fingered remittance and accommodation as limbs of the economy that may become sprained.

"Remittances fluctuate between numbers one and two as foreign exchange earners for Jamaica and the Caribbean. Another worrisome topic is what facilities are in place to absorb persons that are going to be removed. The governments of the Caribbean and Latin America need to pay close attention and try to figure out what they are going to do on this basis," Walker-Huntington told The Gleaner.

Walker-Huntington said she has been resolute in her approach to organise communities in the US to lobby Congress to effect change in this regard.

However, amid local and overseas concerns, the 20-year legal practitioner has sought to assure people not to panic.

She said: "We should not be under the misconception that persons were not being deported before. What (Barack) Obama did under his administration and given the limited resources is to prioritise. So the government didn't require local law enforcement to tell them if an undocumented immigrant or green card holder was charged with a non-violent offence. So child molesters, bank robbers, murderers, etc, were the priority then. So there has always been enforcement."

She added: "What is different about the Trump administration enforcement is the sort of 'scorched-earth' approach, where they're not utilising any discretion and leaving anyone behind. They're going for everyone, and that's why the fear level in the community is so high."

In relaying her legal advice to those likely to be affected by the change in gear of deportation, Walker-Huntington emphasised that experienced legal counsel should be sought, as immigration is a complex area of law in the US.