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A living nightmare

Published:Tuesday | May 22, 2012 | 12:00 AM
Dahlia A. Walker-Huntington

Dear Mrs Huntington,

I am very depressed and worried regarding a decision I took that is becoming my worst nightmare. My 15-year-old son has been a green card holder since February 2002, but has never lived in the US. He has visited the US a number of times. His green card expired February 2012. Prior to the expiration, I was trying to find someone to accommodate him in the US to facilitate the renewal. His father is in the US, but we are not in contact.

Someone I know in Jamaica offered to help by asking his mom to keep my son in the States. I made a hurried decision to send him, due to frustration and little or no knowledge of how to treat the renewal. I now realise I made the wrong decision. I am very uncomfortable with the home environment, and communication with my son is very challenging due to his guardians in the US. To make matters worse, the person I agreed to send him to, sent my son to another relative, and he has gone to another state to be there until June this year. I don't like my son being with this other person, based on her background. She has criminal records both here and in the States.

I asked another friend in the States to assist me to move him out of the first home. My friend purchased the plane ticket and made arrangements for him to be taken to the airport but, at the last minute, the guardian did not send him, costing me much more stress.

I am the holder of a US visa but, financially, I cannot afford to travel right now.

Mrs Walker-Huntington, I am asking your intervention and assistance in having my son returned to me as the persons in the US have refused to send him home. I have been to the local police in my parish but not getting much help. Finally, is there any way the green card could be renewed from Jamaica? Thanks in advance.

- NH

Dear NH,

You have quite a problem on your hands. The Jamaican police can do very little because it is out of their jurisdiction.

You did not mention whether you gave written/legal guardianship documents to someone in the US to care for your child. Whether you have legal documents, or you just sent the child to be with someone in the US, you should contact the Department of Children & Families in the state that your child is in to investigate the person with whom the child is staying. If that person is shown to have a criminal past and/ or is not caring for the child, the appropriate government department can remove the child from their care. The child may be placed in foster care (State care) until the matter of custody is determined, and it is not guaranteed where the child will ultimately be placed.

You also did not mention if your child is attending school. If the child is in school, you should be in touch with the school to assert your position as the mother (you will have to send proof) and to advise them of the situation. The school should be able to help you also to involve the State authorities to ensure the safety of your child. You need to act sooner rather than later - within six months of the custody problem. If the State gets involved, ask them to appoint an attorney to represent your interest, as well as an attorney, ad litem, to represent the interest of your son.

You should re-evaluate your relationship with your son's father and consider getting him involved in what is happening with his son. Based on the father's US-immigration status, your son may be able to derive US citizenship from his father if he were to go and live with him.

Unfortunately, quite a lot of Jamaican parents find themselves in a similar situation where they either send their children to the other biological parent, or to family or friends, and the situation goes horribly wrong. A green card comes with a tremendous amount of responsibility, the holder is required to live and work or attend school in the US. There are many Jamaicans with green cards who have never lived in the US, and travel back and forth between Jamaica and the US. If a person is going to do that, they must establish residence in the US and have a pretty good reason to give the Customs and Border Protection Officer if asked at the port of entry into the US. They must also be prepared to show that the US is their place of residence but they are in Jamaica for extended periods for a significant reason. The other option is to file for a Re-Entry Permit that, if granted, allows a person to remain outside of the US for up to two years.

Your son cannot renew his green card in Jamaica; it must be filed while he is in the US. I know you say financially you cannot travel to the States right now, but if your child's safety is at risk, you should pull out all the stops to go and rescue him. You should consult with an attorney and give the entire story surrounding your son and his guardians in the US.

Dahlia A. Walker-Huntington is a Jamaican-American attorney who practices law in Florida in the areas of immigration, family, criminal and personal-injury law. She is a mediator, an arbitrator and special magistrate in Broward County, Florida.