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FOOL'S PARADISE! - Jamaican migrants struggle when they discover 'money doesn't grow on trees' in the United States

Published:Friday | October 30, 2015 | 12:00 AMNadine Wilson-Harris
Forensic social worker Carmeta Albarus

Jamaica-born forensic social worker Carmeta Albarus is pleading for more in-depth pre-migration counselling for those seeking greener pastures as she is increasingly coming across Jamaicans in the American penal system, who turned to a life of crime after realising that living abroad is nothing like they had expected.

"When I talk to individuals who I do psychosocial investigation on, one of the things they say is, 'Bwouy, I wasn't really prepared for this,'" said Albarus, whose clients included Lee Boyd Malvo who, at 17-year-old took part in a sniper attack in Washington which saw 10 individuals killed and several others being injured in 2002.

Albarus was asked by the court to investigate the teen's background, including his upbringing in Jamaica, in order to provide information that might help to mitigate the death sentence he faced following the attacks.

As a forensic social worker and a death penalty mitigation specialist, Albarus generally conducts psychosocial profile on individuals who are facing the death penalty.

Unfortunately, some of these individuals she has come across in her line of work are Jamaicans who wish they were better prepared for life in the United States.

"When they go up there (US), they realise that it's not what they see on TV, that's not the reality; and so what happens sometimes is that they fall through the crack," said Albarus.

"Most of my clients, especially those in the criminal justice system, a lot of them are green card holders and their parents bring them up and they don't get the supervision and guidance that they really need in order to be integrated into the society, and so they fall," she told The Sunday Gleaner.


migration counselling needed


An estimated 24,744 Jamaicans were granted visas for permanent residence in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom in 2013, compared with 14,746 in 1994.

Of those granted permanent visas in 2013, more than 19,000 went to reside in the US, which represent a 40 per cent increase over those given permanent status in 1994, when more than 14,000 Jamaicans were granted the opportunity to live in that country.

Albarus noted that pre-migration counselling is something that is taken seriously in other countries and believes that efforts should be made to encourage this among Jamaicans with the intention to migrate.

"Other nationalities do it, especially the Jews, so they have that sort of support system that starts there and follows them through here. So it reduces the risks of them falling through the cracks and getting into the kind of behaviour that lands them in prison, or land them on the other side of the law and they have to be sent back here," she said.

Albarus said that one of the first things some Jamaican teenagers realise after migrating is that the concept of the village raising the child is not very strong.

Whereas their grandparents in Jamaica were able to stay at home and supervise them, they quickly realise that once they are reunited with their parents in the US, the parents are likely to have multiple jobs in order to make ends meet.

The forensic social worker, who migrated 30 years ago, said she has been discussing with individuals from the Jamaica Diaspora in the US, the prospect of preparing a handbook for those planning to migrate.

This handbook, she said, would help to brief individuals about common pitfalls they are likely to encounter as new migrants. It is hoped that a handbook would help to help reduce the number of Jamaicans being deported annually.