Poverty, violence drive Jamaicans to flee for US

June 01, 2023

Former deputy speaker of the House of Representatives Lloyd B Smith says violence and the lack of meaningful opportunities are factors that are triggering the illegal migration of Jamaicans to the US.

"Yes, there are jobs out there but some persons are not well paid and they can hardly survive with the salary that they are receiving, and some think that it doesn't even make any sense to even work. So their thing is to see if they can get to the US or Canada," he said.

"We need more meaningful jobs and opportunities for the youngsters and law enforcement has to have a greater level of scrutiny with respect to persons leaving the island. Bare in mind, it is very expensive to use these illegal routes, so you will see some parents selling their goats and cows to find the money for their child. It is very dangerous especially going through Mexico. There was a time when persons could marry an American resident but that has got really expensive to as much as US$30,000," Smith added.

More Jamaicans are trekking to the US through countries like Mexico, Panama and Belize. In 2020, 4,467 Jamaicans travelled to Mexico. That number jumped by 68 per cent to 7,509 in 2021. In the first three months of 2022, 2,929 Jamaicans made the trek. At least two Jamaicans have lost their lives trying to cross the dangerous US/Mexico border in recent times. Last June, five-year-old Malaisha Millier got separated from her mother while crossing the border illegally. Her body was found floating in a river days later. The child's grandmother said that the mother chose the illegal route to provide a better life for herself and her children and also to escape violence in Jamaica. Jermaine McPherson, 34, died from complications of an ulcer in March. His body was found on a street of Mexico. The Kingston man hoped to enter the US to improve the living conditions for himself and his family.

Smith said it is not unusual for acts of violence to drive Jamaicans out of their country.

"Violence also plays a role because in many communities there is a phenomenon that has developed in Jamaica that if you cant catch 'Quaco', you catch him shirt. So if you are associated with someone who is targeted by a criminal element, and they cannot get to that person, then they will kill whoever is associated with that person," he said.

Jamaica has also been ranked as the 55th most miserable country in 2022, economically speaking, according to Hanke's Annual Misery Index, which Smith also noted.

"The misery index showed that Jamaica was among those countries high on the misery list. The criteria for that is primarily the quality of life and so on. People just cannot find ways to survive comfortably," Smith said. He said that slowing the flow of illegal border crossings may be a difficult task.

"It is kind of difficult because we have always had a migration mentality in Jamaica mostly to the US. The difference is that they are using dangerous and different routes to migrate. To get a visa now, especially since COVID, there is a very long waiting time at US Embassy for persons waiting to get a visa. I believe that is a part of the problem because it has come more difficult to get a visa," he said.

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