by Raju Clarke

I entered the United States as a legal permanent resident in 1986 when I was eight years old. I was very happy to arrive here—my mother had to first leave me and my brother in Jamaica to get here, and we were passed from home to home. I was very angry at her because of the abuse I went through back there, but that is something that we never spoke about. I recently learned that my mother was a survivor of abuse herself.

Roughly 15 years ago I accepted a plea deal for what I was told would be a simple drug possession charge. I was pulled over in a vehicle with my brother who was being investigated along with everyone around him for selling drugs. I had an attorney who made mistakes and did not put much effort into my case. The worst part is my mother told me to ask him about any possible immigration consequences, and he told us that I would only be pleading to a simple possession charge and shouldn’t have anything to worry about. That is the only thing on my record and I haven’t had any run-ins with the law since then. ICE came and spoke to me in 2003, but then they left me alone.

All images provided by Raju

In July of 2010 my mother passed away one day before my birthday from a brain tumor. Suddenly, I became epileptic and started having seizures in my sleep. In August of 2013, I had just dropped off my daughter at camp when I heard a knock at my door. It was ICE agents. I was handcuffed and driven out to a facility in Batavia, NY, about an hour away. I was processed like a high-security criminal—we were strip-searched and treated in an undignified manner. I was forced to bend over and spread my cheeks in front of a dozen or so officers, both men and women. I was then put in a jumpsuit and sent to a dorm.

It took a few days before I was able to visit medical. I told them that I’m epileptic and I need to take medicine as prescribed by my neurologist. I also notified them I’m required to follow up with a neurologist every 6 months and that my next follow up was only a few days away. The detention facility’s doctor took it upon herself to drastically cut my prescribed dosage of anti-seizure medication, 1500 mg of Depakote, down to 500 mg. Within a few days I went from having one nocturnal seizure weeks or months apart to having two and sometimes three very violent seizures during the day where it would take a long time to recover. I began biting my tongue severely and losing control of my bladder as well during these seizures and I was rushed to the emergency room a couple of times. I fell out of my bunk two or three times as well and injured my shoulder, which I kept informing them about, but was only given ibuprofen which irritates my stomach. The documents from the ER show that they gave urgent instructions for me to see a neurologist within a week, but I was not allowed to for about 4-5 months after and a few more visits to the ER.

I definitely thought I was going to die in there.

When I was finally allowed to see a neurologist, he directed them to put the dosage of my medicine back to the prescribed dosage and my episodes were reduced. But he explained that my situation had been very dangerous and could have long-term effects and could cause damage to my brain. Now my memory is messed up—I often feel confusion, memory loss, and an inability to concentrate or focus. I have constant anxiety and feel depressed all of the time. I am basically confined to my house. I have completely forgotten what it means to have fun and relax.

While I was detained, I lied to my daughter for months. I told her that I was away on business and felt like shit every time she started crying on the phone asking why I left her and when I was coming back. Now she is 11 years old and we are very close. When I was gone for that year, she went through behavioral issues at home and in school. She started having anxiety as well.

After being detained for a year I was granted a stay of removal and released from detention. I have had to check in with ICE monthly and I had my stay of removal approved for 5 years. The immigration judge stated on the record that if his hands weren’t tied by the law he would grant me a cancellation of removal, and the prosecutor also agreed.

A doctor's prognosis from May of 2018

When I was released, I needed to have a double surgery on my shoulder and I’m suffering from constant neck and back pain. I am also waiting for a neck fusion surgery to be scheduled, but now I do not know if it can be done, because after 5 years my recent application to extend my stay of removal was denied. ICE notified me they are in the process of obtaining my documents to be deported. I am told the cause of all this is from my plea to drug possession I was advised to take over 15 years ago. The only thing that has changed now is a new administration, and a new ICE regional director in my area in upstate New York.

The funny thing is when ICE came and spoke to me in 2003, nothing came of it. Now that I’m much older, sick, and have a family, is when they decide to put us through this.

I have three children, all US citizens, and I recently got married to the mother of my daughter whom I’ve been with for over 12 years. I recently tried to re-apply for a stay of removal, but after being given the run-around I was told they will not accept my application because I do not have a passport. My doctor has advised against me living alone because my seizures are nocturnal and require immediate care when they happen. My wife and daughter are the ones who tend to me in these times. We are all in fear for my life if I am deported to a country with a lack of medical care and one I have never been to since I was 8 years old. Now I’m 43. If I am deported to Jamaica, there is a lack of medical care there and I would have no family to help care for me, especially at night.

Testimony of Raju's wife Rose. She also says, “With him gone my goals would be nearly impossible to achieve. To lose Raju would be truly devastating to our lives.”

Despite fighting seizures, depression, anxiety, and living on one income, I still managed to obtain certifications, drop my disability case, and start a business that is starting to gain traction now. It’s an internet business because I am not able to drive or go out to work. I’m also a stay-at-home dad while my wife works and attends school getting her Master’s degree in social work. I am also afraid to step outside of my house as I have severe anxiety and I have been stopped and harassed by the police more than once in the past. I am really trying to stay here so my wife can finish her schooling because the last time this happened, she lost our home, her job, her car, and was forced to sleep on her mother’s floor with our daughter who was 7 at the time. We did not have a big wedding, because it was too expensive, and we have been afraid since I received the denial from ICE.

I know once the topic of a drug conviction comes up then one is looked at differently, but I grew up in the same environment and have had the same struggles as “dreamers.” And what about those who came here as children and grew up under unequal conditions that African Americans and other people of color face in this country?

Until 2013 I honestly never knew or realized that I wasn’t an American.

I want people to know what they did to me. They are now intentionally trying to send me back to die.

Raju enjoying a vacation in Orlando with his daughter