Reintegration of deportees: The challenge of a Guyanese immigration experience

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By Lear Matthews and Lancelot Mars

Lear Matthews is professor, State University of New York, Empire State College. A former lecturer at the University of Guyana, his recently published book is “English Speaking Caribbean Immigrants: Transnational Identities”. He writes on Diaspora issues.

Lancelot Mars has over 25 years experience in general and human resources management.

He works as a Management Consultant specializing in Strategic planning, monitoring and evaluating and the creation of Strategic Business Plans.

What to do about the immigrants who are sent back to their respective home countries due to judicial violations is a new, potentially contentious issue and untenable proposition. There has been an increase in the number of deportees, most from the USA and Canada to the Caribbean over the past few years. In essence, deportees are immigrants who are exiled from their adopted home; some for clear violation of sundry laws, some very serious, while others may be victims of immigration policies that are arbitrarily applied, particularly if the accused is not adequately represented legally to assist with due process. Among the typical reasons for deportation are: overstay, illegal entry and illegal re-entry. These immigrants are subject to the realities of a forced re-migratory experience. Furthermore, their deportation is speciously viewed by observers including locals, as emblematic of failure in the diaspora. The latter perception tends to obliterate any meaningful past achievements of these individuals and exhibits a  lack of understanding of the hardships experienced by some families in the diaspora. For some deportees, their actions that lead to deportation may have been the failure of acculturation into the host society, especially in school. Consequently, they become vulnerable to influences that can be attributed to financial and social constraints encountered in many instances by the structural difficulties facing single parents.

There is a need for deportees to be re-socialized into the local home community, particularly the nations’ cultural value system, customs and practices. Others need to be introduced to a social environment they may hardly know, particularly if they left the home country as children. They also often return to countries where the unemployment rate is relatively high and with no organized system to help them readjust to their new home. In some cases, even their own family members refuse to acknowledge and support them or are financially unable to do so. Some deportees reportedly have been exploited for political purposes. In such instances opposition groups will denigrate ‘deportees’ and attribute nefarious acts to them for political gain.

Furthermore, the seeming lack of concern by the government about their welfare leads to the feelings by the populace that these persons are unwanted and are a ‘problem’ to society. Unfortunately, deportees, particularly males, tend to be labelled a deviant group, regardless of the nature of the violation that led to their deportation, and they are often accused of being responsible for the increase in the home country societal crime. There is also a tendency to stereotype deportees as having certain perceived negative attributes. In some cases they are blacklisted by public officials, both in the host country and country of origin. However, they do not fit any one profile in terms of occupation, ethnicity, gender or reason for being deported.  Many who have been detained by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and subject to deportation are non-violent offenders.

The number of deportations to the Caribbean has increased under the last two United States government administrations. Notably, figures from the 2017 US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Enforcement and Removals Operations Report for the Caribbean region are quite revealing: Guyana 142; Jamaicans 782; Trinidad and Tobagonians 128; Haitians 5, 578. These numbers are likely to increase with continued draconian US immigration laws. What appears to be unrelenting deportations to the Caribbean has continued under the current US government administration.

When immigrants are uprooted and sent back to their country of origin, not only is family life disrupted, but children in particular, whose parents are deported face social dislocation and mental health consequences. As observed by several researchers, this is true for those who remain in the U.S. separated from deported relatives, as well as those who leave the country in order to preserve the family’s unity. The increase in deportation and suppression of family reunification because of changed policy are traumatizing for immigrant families, causing fear, anxiety, vulnerability and victimization. The social and emotional costs could be devastating.

 In the throes of significant economic and social transformation, vulnerable groups such as the homeless, mentally ill, elderly and increasingly deportees, are likely not to be adequately nor proportionately represented. Advocacy measures for the deportees must be sustained. Owing to the growing magnitude and novelty of dealing with this population, there should be a reintegration programme. Effectively planning for their reintegration is not only strongly recommended but should be based on knowledge of this phenomenon, from both a human development and socio-economic perspective. Understanding the social, political and psychological dynamics of the process of deportation and resettlement is essential for their adjustment. This includes unambiguous policy, an effective programme and capacity to deal with any residual tensions that may emerge between the local population and deportees.

The Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Citizenship, and Social Protection should have a profile of these individuals that includes information not only about who they are and the reason(s) for deportation, but also on family contacts in the diaspora and home country, accomplishments and skills acquired both at home and while overseas.

The role of Diaspora Voluntary Organizations

Apart from the reputation of  “giving back” by sending remittances, a growing number of diasporans have expressed concern about the fate of deportees and other underserved groups. Deportee reintegration programmes in other Caribbean nations have been implemented by diaspora organizations. The Family Unification and Resettlement Initiative (FURI) is a New York-based Jamaican Diaspora Organization. Working with the government and funded by donor agencies including the National Organization of Deported Migrants (NODM), the British High Commission, and public tax deductible contributions, this organization has instituted a programme to address the problem of deportee reintegration. FURI’s objective is to offer alternatives that “foster faith, hope and confidence that life can be worthwhile”. The organization aims to decrease the stigma and assist in the reintegration of deported persons by collaborating with other service agencies and help them adjust to the new home environment. Founding member Carmen Albarus-Lindo suggests that it is important to help “displaced persons adjust positively to deportation….and the important role they can have on development and improve their own lives.” Since many deportees do not have close relatives in the home country, FURI initially arranged accommodation to assist them in the early stages of their return. Sustained financial and other needed help, including the provision of and for commercial farming with the use of greenhouse technology are provided. The components of the programme are: Accommodation/Shelter referrals; Employment/Vocational counseling training referrals; Drug/Alcohol abuse rehab referrals; Health care Referrals; and Counseling; Reconnecting with families; Help in obtaining National Identification and other important documents.

Guyana and other Caribbean countries could benefit by replicating such a programme, which should be viewed as an investment. Assessment for rehabilitation services should also be a part of such a programme. Some deportees can be considered for the same rehabilitation programmes expected for persons who violate the laws in their home countries and after a period of incarceration can expect to be reintegrated into society. A well-structured reintegration programme and educating the public will help mitigate the concerns of civil society about deportees. It is imperative for deportees to be reintegrated into society since the overt or covert expressed desires of ‘local’ persons that they should again emigrate, albeit ‘illegally’ is wishful thinking and should be discouraged. This is rendered moot since there is normally an immigration stipulation barring possible return to the host country for a specified number of years (USA -10 years for each deportation order).

In light of the anticipated wealth elevation in Guyana, (1) Will there be the provision of needed resources for an effective reintegration programme? (2) Would this be considered as part of the promise of “maximum benefit” to all Guyanese, as well as the pledge of “social protection and other social services?”  How Caribbean governments respond to this problem will determine their legacy in the realm of humanitarian response to birthright citizenship.



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