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The Sentinel

The Student News Site of John Jay College of Criminal Justice

The Sentinel

The Student News Site of John Jay College of Criminal Justice

The Sentinel

Undocumented Family Crosses the Southern Border and Reunites In Queens

Siblings left their livelihood in Jamaica and embarked on an unexpected three month long journey to arrive in the United States in hopes for a better life.
Candice Duncan

Once the car door flew open, four migrants ran swiftly down a steep hill to a big, tall maroon fence separating Mexico and the United States. Human smugglers waited for the migrants at the end of the hill. Once all the migrants were by the fence, the smugglers threw a detachable ladder at the fence top. Rushing the migrants to climb.

Jamaican-born citizen Ray started to climb the ladder first; his half-sister Chelsea stretched her five-year-old daughter Rain towards the ladder, urging Ray to lift her with him.”Take Rain with you!” she yelled.

Patrol officers stood at the top of the hill looking down at the migrants and the smugglers. They began to yell words that the migrants couldn’t understand. This made the smugglers impatient with Ray’s sister Leah, who struggled to climb the ladder to get over the fence. Chelsea placed her hands under Leah’s feet, pushing upwards towards each ring on the ladder.

The smugglers started to detach the ladder once Chelsea was atop the fence. She grabbed the ladder’s sides, quickly climbing over to avoid falling. “It all felt like a scene from a movie,” Chelsea said.

US Patrol officers told the migrants to wait until buses arrived for transportation to a detention facility. The sun started to go down, and the cold air from the sea cast a chill. Before crossing the border, the family had to leave all their clothes, shoes, jackets, and food at their last hotel in Tijuana, Mexico. Ray and Chelsea had on short-sleeved shirts with long jeans. Leah and baby Rain had on a sweater and jeans. The family survived a freezing night at the border, waiting on buses to take them to a detention facility. The wait time was 15 hours, but it felt like 24 hours for the family. “It felt like zero degrees,” Ray said, “I was excited to go to a detention facility.”

The family thought about their life in Jamaica, influencing their decision to cross the border. Chelsea and Leah shared the same father. While Leah and Ray shared the same mother. Chelsea was 19 years old when she left Jamaica, and her daughter Rain was four years old. They were an extended family that came together to embark on a journey that would change their life forever.

Ray and Leah’s mother, Cheryl, left Jamaica in 2007 for a two-month work trip in the United States. That decision was the first step in a sixteen-year separation from her children. Since Cheryl wasn’t a citizen, she asked family members in the US to file for her children. After multiple failed attempts at getting US visas for her children, she introduced the plan of crossing the border.

Cheryl wanted to create better education opportunities and upbringing for her children. But due to the gang wars in the Kingston community, she had sleepless nights. Doctors recommended therapy three times a week to cope with the stress of being apart from her children. “My body was in America, but my mind and heart were in Jamaica,” Cheryl said.

When the city buses arrived, Leah and Ray took the same bus to a detention facility in San Diego, where they stayed for five days. Since Chelsea traveled with her baby, she hasn’t stayed at a detention facility. “We were lucky,” she said.

The first facility the siblings stayed at had no running water for showers. The room was the size of a high school classroom with no beds and aluminum foil blankets. The facility divided migrants based on gender and age. The only furniture in the rooms was concrete columns for sitting, but some migrants would sleep on them. The room held about 30 migrants. “I felt like a chicken in an oven,” Ray said.

After five days, Leah was transferred to a women’s facility in Louisiana. She was separated from her brother but at a better detention facility. She compared both facilities similar to heaven and hell. The second facility had beds, hot meals, functioning toilets, open spaces, and friendly people.

The siblings were worried about their immigration interview. Throughout the journey, they remained strong, but they grew anxious waiting for the interview. They had no communication during their time at the detention facility. Cheryl had to call two different facilities to communicate with her children.

“One morning, my breakfast was stolen, and I was hungry. Then I heard a knock on my cell door. Number 144 low, you’re leaving! When I heard this, I was less concerned that someone had stolen my breakfast that morning. I will see my mom for the first time after sixteen years,” Ray said.

After two months of being locked up in detention centers, both siblings had the chance of freedom to reunite with their mother. They  were unaware of being released on the same day. Leah and Ray would take buses from the detention facility to the nearest airport of their choice. Cheryl paid for their plane ticket from their destination to JFK Airport in Jamaica, Queens.

Driving in disbelief, tears welled in Cheryl’s eyes as she went to JFK airport. “I can’t believe I was finally seeing my children !” she yelled.

Leah was six years old when her mother left Jamaica, and her younger brother Ray was five. Now, Leah is 26, and Ray is 21. Since the siblings’ flight was hours apart, Leah saw her mom before Ray did. “Seeing her for the first time felt like a dream,” she said.

That joyful Sunday evening, Cheryl cooked the first meal for her children after 16 years apart. Ray had pumpkin soup, Leah had rice and peas, and Chelsea had fried fish. They all sat around the dining table as a united family; they held each other’s hands tightly and bowed their heads, “Let us pray,” Cheryl said.

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    CourtneyMar 14, 2024 at 8:43 pm

    One of the best stories I’ve ever read🔥