An average of nearly 30 Marshall Islanders were deported annually from the U.S. by Immigration and Customs Enforcement from 2013-2019. With borders closed for nearly two years, a backlog of deportations is expected. Immigration and Customs Enforcement photo

MAJURO (MARIANAS VARIETY) — A total of 218 Marshall Islanders were deported from the United States in the eight years prior to the country’s border lockdown when the Covid pandemic hit in early 2020.

In light of the heavy out-migration of Marshall Islanders to the U.S — the late 2021 national census confirmed an over 20 percent decline in the population since the 2011 population count, confirming the trend of islanders leaving to the U.S — and the earlier average of close to 30 deportees annually, there is likely a significant backlog of Marshallese waiting to be deported from the United States by the U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement or ICE.

In contrast to pre-Covid years when an average of two or three deportees would arrive each month, the backlog could mean a large number of deportees arrive at the same time or within a short time period.

Service providers in Majuro say that people being deported have certain needs to help them reintegrate into a country that most have not lived in for many years, to find jobs, and to get their feet on the ground. But there is no system in place for assisting with or responding to needs of Marshallese who are deported.

“There is no real support to deportees and their families to help them access jobs, and get on their feet again,” said Angela Saunders, who heads the International Office for Migration in Majuro. She also pointed out that as far as long-term climate adaptation planning goes, this is a segment of the Marshallese population that is “disenfranchised. They are not part of the conversation.”

Dr Holden Nena, the clinical director for the Human Services Division at the Ministry of Health and Human Services, said his office provides assistance to a number of people who were deported and have various behavioural health symptoms. He said his office has tried mostly without success to get information on people being deported so that it is in a better position to offer services to address particular needs people may have.

“Many grew up in the U.S and their whole families are there,” he said of Marshallese who committed a crime and have been deported. He worries that given this scenario, “we may end up with more people on the street.”

Nena explained that often problems start for Marshallese while they are in the U.S, including substance misuse and family violence. If better informed, he and his staff can provide more effective support, he said.

“This situation needs a formal plan in place,” he said, adding that his office can provide assistance that is helpful to reintegrating people into the local community.

From 2013 through 2019, the U.S government averaged 29 deportations of Marshallese each year. From October 2019 to March 2020, before the Covid pandemic forced closure of the country’s borders, the U.S dispatched 16 Marshallese deportees back home.

In the following two years, deportations have been on hold due to the border closure. It suggests the possible scenario that when the borders either open or the Marshall Islands government accommodates U.S government requests to allow the return of Marshallese who are detained in the U.S awaiting deportation, that a large number could arrive in a short time.

In an overview of deportations from Australia, New Zealand and the U.S published last week by the Asia and The Pacific Policy Society, Henrietta McNeill and Magele Vernon Mackenzie said closed borders have created a backlog of criminal deportations to Pacific Islands states and more effective transition programs are needed to reduce the risk of recidivism among returnees.

“Criminal deportations to the Pacific have risen significantly in the last decade,” McNeill and Mackenzie wrote. “These deportees, who are mostly male, are being sent back to their country of citizenship primarily from the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. However, during the Covid-19 pandemic, the borders to Pacific states have been shut, slowing down physical deportations. Pressure is building as the number of people facing deportation when borders reopen rises. But there is an opportunity to avert a potential regional security crisis by recognising and addressing the reintegration needs of deportees.”

Marshall Islands Deputy Police Commissioner Eric Jorbon said that in his experience, most people deported from the U.S have family members here who are notified of their arrival and pick them up at the airport. From a law enforcement perspective, deportations have not been a major concern, Jorbon said.

Currently, there is one deportee in prison, he said. “But it’s not a big issue right now,” he said. Jorbon said he was aware of countries in the South Pacific facing issues from large numbers of deportees arriving from New Zealand and Australia. “If a big influx comes in, it might be a bigger issue,” Jorbon said. “But for now, they have trickled in.”

He also said that people being deported from the U.S. have not broken any laws in the Marshall Islands and “return home as free people.”

Saunders said it would be helpful to have systems in place to not only respond to needs of people being deported, but also others who drop out of school or do not do well in the states. “These populations need all kinds of services,” she said, adding that mostly what is available locally are one-off training programs that address some but not all of the range of needs of these groups. “Deportees are a large enough population that we need to engage with them,” she said…. PACNEWS

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