Sun | Dec 10, 2023

Deported from New Jersey, a stranger in Jamaica

Published:Monday | October 26, 2015 | 9:19 AM


Fidel Napier made it out of Camden, often called America's poorest and most dangerous city, only to end up in a country where the water sometimes cuts out and he fears for his safety when he leaves the house.

Almost six months have passed since federal authorities took Napier out of the Pennsauken home he shared with his wife and three kids and left him in Jamaica, the country where he was born.

Napier came to Camden at age five, but never became a US citizen. He was deported July 30 because of a 1998 drug conviction that labelled him a high-priority candidate. Napier, who once spent his time coaching youth basketball and going out to dinner with his wife, now lives with a distant cousin in St Thomas, a rural community outside of Kingston which was this year ranked as Jamaica's most impoverished parish.

It is a foreign place to Napier. He does not have a Jamaican accent, which he said makes him stick out, and he can see people sizing him up when he is in public. When friends send him money, he gives most of it to his cousin to help with bills. He is trying to obtain the identification documents he needs to apply for jobs, but given the area's chronic unemployment, he is not optimistic about his chances.

bursting into tears

"I wake up every morning and think, what am I doing here?" Napier, 38, said in a phone interview. "I'm used to taking care of my family, being a father to my children. I just don't feel like a man. This life, this isn't me. It's just not who I always tried to be."

In his absence, his once-content suburban family home is roiled by sadness, anger and stress, said his wife, Kiyonna Napier. Their 16-year-old daughter, Teyonna, complains of stomach aches and often asks to stay home from school. Taliah, their 13-year-old, cannot bear to have FaceTime phone calls with her father, bursting into tears at the sight of his smile. Their son, Fidel Jr, seven, has gone from cheery to stand-offish, slamming doors and yelling.

"I'm having a tough time with them," Kiyonna Napier told The Philadelphia Inquirer. "They're shutting down, they're struggling. I'm struggling."

Money is tight, she said. She took medical leave from her job as a lab technician due to anxiety and depression that set in after the deportation. Responsibilities that were always shared, such as shuttling the kids between sports practices, now rest solely with her.

Friends pooled their money for a ticket so she could visit her husband once after he left, but the kids have not seen him since summer. Hoping for a chance to spend the holidays together, the Napiers set up a donation web site,, with proceeds going towards plane fare to Jamaica. So far, the effort has drawn less than $250.

Napier's deportation was the culmination of a process that began in 2010 when Homeland Security agents arrested him at the manufacturing company where he worked. After he was taken into custody in May, he spent weeks in federal detention before agents put him on a plane.

Policies enacted under the Obama administration focus on removing felons and repeat offenders from the country. It is unclear when Napier came to the department's attention or why he was not targeted until more than a decade after his plea. The case against him stems entirely from crimes committed almost two decades ago.