Caribbean Crime Wave Linked to US Deportations

Mike Melia, WTOP-FM (Washington, D.C.), September 25, 2010

The crime was horrifying enough–a nightclub owner, hacked to death with a machete, was found buried in pieces. But what really outraged people was that the accused killer had been deported from the U.S. to his native Grenada as a convicted felon.

As a foreign-bred criminal, the suspect never should have returned to the close-knit tropical nation, relatives of the victim and others said. Islanders called for more vigilance over deportees by the government, which says it needs help from Washington to handle the return of hardened convicts.

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The United States has deported thousands of convicted criminals to the Caribbean annually since 1996, when Congress mandated that every non-citizen sentenced to a year or more in prison be kicked out of the country upon release. In all, the U.S. is responsible for about three-quarters of the region’s returning criminal deportees, with the United Kingdom and Canada accounting for most of the other ex-cons arriving in the islands.

It’s a phenomenon that also afflicts many parts of Central America, where street gangs that grew out of Los Angeles spread to the region through massive deportations. Brutal and powerful, the “Maras” are blamed for rampant violent crime, extortion and more recently acting as enforcers for drug cartels.

In the Caribbean, governments say deportees are exacerbating crime in nations with high levels of violence such as Jamaica. On the smaller islands such as Grenada, once considered idyllic havens from gang violence, officials say the returning deportees are partly to blame for increasingly bold and sophisticated crimes and homicide rates soaring to record levels.

The United States is attempting to defuse tensions with island governments by exploring programs to help them reintegrate deportees. {snip}

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At the heart of the problem is the disparity of wealth between the United States, where migrants often learn their criminal ways, and their poor homelands, where jobs are scarce and police resources are limited. Moreover, islanders who often left their native lands as children return to countries they barely recognize, with no remaining family.

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The biggest impact has been in heavily populated countries like Jamaica, where deportees are suspected in several violent crimes each week, according to Leslie Green, an assistant police commissioner.

But smaller islands are increasingly leading the calls for help from Washington. A Grenada government spokesman, Richard Simon, said they lack the counseling, monitoring and housing services needed to absorb deportees with serious criminal records.

In Dominica, at least one criminal deportee is suspected in a recent pair of brazen, daylight robberies by masked men, Security Minister Charles Savarin said.

In St. Lucia, an island of 170,000 people that received 18 criminal deportees from the U.S. last year, Security Minister Guy Mayers said some of the convicts were apparently recruited into local drug rings that exploit their contacts from overseas prisons.

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In 2007, the U.S. launched a pilot program managed by the United Nations’ International Organization for Migration to help reintegrate deportees. The $3 million project provided services including career counseling and housing assistance in Haiti, Guyana and the Bahamas.

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