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In July 2016, Jane Brown*, 43, got a single entry visa to the US as part of a netball team, but minutes after checking into the hotel, she ditched the group.
Her plan to reach the US had worked and within a few days, she had gained employment at a restaurant in Panama City, Florida. She said life has been good as, until recently, she was able to provide for her five children back home, despite having to share a room with three other immigrants. But an immigration bill that was passed in April in Florida could disrupt her life.
“To be honest, right now mi a pray fi nuh sick because although things nah take full effect until July 1, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) a make some early morning raid. Going to the hospital is a no-no for me. Mi know somebody who dem pick up. At night-time mi sleep fully clothed and one a mi eye nuh lock because mi know if dem come, mi a go try make a run for it. Mi fraid fi walk because is like every time mi see like smaddy a look pon mi, mi wah take the wings and cut,” she said.
Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis signed Senate Bill 1718 which seeks to crack down on illegal immigration. In addition to enhancing penalties for human smuggling, the new bill requires hospitals that accept Medicaid to include a citizenship question on intake forms. Critics said this was intended to dissuade undocumented immigrants from seeking medical care. The bill also expands requirements for businesses with more than 25 staffers to use E-Verify, a federal system that determines if employees can legally work in the US. Brown is one of possibly thousands of Jamaicans residing illegally in Panama City. Brown said that undocumented persons are losing jobs.
“Mi did have two work and a get US$2800 a fortnight but the hotel people dem let mi go. Is not mi alone get drop, is about seven of us so far and I know say is because dem fraid dem place get raid. Honestly mi don’t know what mi a go do because mi don’t know anyone in any other state. Getting out a Florida a go be an issue for me too because mi don’t have anyone to drive mi out and mi fraid to take plane,” she said. Brown said her only option is to get a ‘business marriage’ but the prospective ‘husbands’ are hiking their prices significantly.
“The marriage ting get really expensive. Even the ugliest set a man dem a tell yuh US$25,000 and $30,000. One time dem use to beg yuh to marry dem but now dem hype up dem self. All mi know is that mi nuh wah come back a Jamaica because nuh life not there for mi. Mi can’t work for monkey money again,” she said. Desperate to make it in the ‘land of opportunity’, many migrants have opted to travel through the dangerous Mexico-US border while creating sob stories to soften the hearts of the US court officials to grant them asylum. Brown said the risks are deadly but worth a try.
“Everybody wah live good and it hard bad to survive a Jamaica, suh mi understand why everyone a say exodus. Di crime rate high and mi get stab up already in Three Miles when a man tief mi phone, but a never dat why mi really leave. When mi see nuff time mi youth dem hungry and mi did a work inna store and still can’t make ends meet, mi did have to leave. Hungry nuh nice,” she said.
New York-based immigration and real estate attorney Mitchell Laird said the more practical thing for immigrants to do is to leave the state.
“Most of my clients are gone to Alabama, Georgia and so on where they find similar work. If someone owns a large business such as a chain of restaurants, you can go the chain that is outside the jurisdiction; it’s a lot easier,” he said. Laird also suggested they work with small businesses with lower numbers of employees, as these small businesses will stay under the radar of regulators.
*name changed to protect identity
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