US deportee resettlement programme moving forward

The US State Department has taken steps towards a special resettlement programme for deportees from the US that will afford them job training and placement at a cost of millions of dollars.

The US State Department has signed a contract with the Geneva-based International Organisation for Migration (IOM) to work along with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to conduct further consultations with the relevant stakeholders on the resettlement of deportees in Guyana, Jamaica and The Bahamas.

It is expected that this initial consultancy led by IOM would lead to the signing of an information-sharing agreement and reintegration programme for deportees between Guyana and the US and other countries involved. The resettlement programme is expected to involve millions of dollars.

Responding to questions from the media at a press conference at the Caricom Secretariat on Tuesday, Caricom Assistant Secretary General, Foreign and Community Relations, Ambassador Colin Granderson said that based on information he received that morning from the US Embassy in George-town, the resettlement programme, which is an extension of the pilot project in Haiti, would look at resettlement, job training and job placement for the deportees.

He said that Caricom was expecting more details on the issue but it is expected that the IOM and USAID would work with the host governments and other local partners, including non-governmental organizations.

He noted that following the Conference of the Caribbean held in Washington DC in June this year, a Caricom expert testified before the Sub-Committee on the Western Hemisphere in the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs after a strong lobby by Caricom countries for assistance in dealing with the resettlement of deportees sent back to the region by the US government.

At the hearing on the issue before the Sub-Committee on the Western Hemisphere in July, Chairman of the Sub-committee on the Western Hemisphere, Eliot Engel had said that he expects the deportee reintegration programme would be an extension of the Haiti project which the US government hoped to set up “as a model to other Caricom nations.”

Based on the hearings it was noted that the United States currently has in detention some 31,000 illegal immigrants and 66,000 foreign criminals, more than half of whom are in county jails awaiting deportation, Engel had told the hearing.

He had also said that according to the World Bank and UN report on Crime in the Caribbean, the average deportee from the Caribbean was not involved in criminal activities.

He had said that the US had no obligation to provide residency for nationals who commit crime but the US nevertheless had taken steps towards the resettlement of deportees through the pilot programme in Haiti.

Engel had noted that over a decade ago the US had deported about 40,000 illegal immigrants annually but this number had risen to 200,000 with some 300,000 breaching immigration laws this year.

Since 1997, the US deported more than 670,000 illegal immigrants, a move the non-governmental organisation Human Rights Watch has said has separated 1.6 million families.

Deportation major issue

Engel said that the issue of deportation has become a major issue for leaders in the hemisphere based on his meetings with those he met since taking office.

He had noted that for 2005, almost 145,000 persons were deported from the US to Mexico. At present the US government is working with the current Mexican administration to have persons apprehended at the border trying to gain entry to the US to voluntarily return home.

He said, too, that the US government was working with some Latin American countries such as Guatemala and Honduras to implement electronic travel documents to cut down on illegal immigrants.

Engel said that at the Conference of the Caribbean, Caricom leaders queried the US immigration policy on deportees; and on trips he took to the Dominican Republic and Haiti the issue of deportees was foremost.

The major complaint was that the deportees were a burden on the societies and many were aliens in the land to which they were deported having left their country of origin at a very young age.

He said the US State Department was also working closely with a number of governments to facilitate further dialogue and assistance that would make the home country take decisions that would influence citizens to stay. This includes taking economics and crime and other factors into consideration.

The issue was no longer whether the US should or should not remove criminals or illegal immigrants, he said, as it was clear that the US should not be absorbing criminal elements.

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