It’s 5 o’clock on a Friday morning, and while most of the house is still asleep, Ann Rose is preparing to head to her second of two jobs as an in-home nurse for a resident she describes as “simply delightful.” The next day, it’s back to her day job as a hospice nurse.
Her cheery demeanor, even after working a full 40-hour a week job as a hospice nurse, speaks volumes to the level of passion she has for people and their care. She sees the worst, more times than not, and every day is a balancing act between consoling patients and preparing families for the inevitable. But she’s the type of person that does more than manages in that type of environment. She excels in it.
That’s why it was so hard for Rose to understand why, just a few years ago, as a Jamaican immigrant with plenty of experience and education, she couldn’t land a job anywhere.
“It was frustrating,” she says as she heads to her driveway. A white Lexus and late model Toyota sit right next to her neatly manicured lawn in Anacostia, but homes just next door sport overgrown weeds and rusty hubcaps outside.
“Back home, my parents had always told me I could be and do whatever I wanted, as long as I put my mind to it. But coming here to the States—to the ‘land of opportunity’ supposedly—was the first time I felt like that wasn’t really true.”
During the Bush administration, the White House tried to reform the immigration system by offering legal status to millions of undocumented immigrants, but the proposal was shot down in the Senate. And even while Rose struggled with the day to day of navigating Bush’s America, that wasn’t the worst of it.
She recalls a particular time when it seemed like the odds were completely stacked against her.
“I was pregnant with my daughter,” she starts, “and I was in the hospital for some time. I’d been working for a pretty good company—or so I thought.”
“But for the three months, I was in that hospital bed, not a single American friend or colleague came to visit, or even so much as called,” she says. “It was like I didn’t exist to them—or I was only a part of their world when it was convenient.”
The worst part, she says? “I lost my job before I even got back on my feet. Apparently, a three-month-long hospital stay wasn’t good enough justification for my absence.”
Rose isn’t the only person in the family with a fraught experience in the U.S. Her husband Teddy (affectionately known as Teddy T.) recounts his experience as an immigrant in the States and how it differed from living in Europe.
“As a Jamaican, I absolutely loved living in the U.K. The culture was accommodating, the people were friendly, and it was like there were laws in place that allowed me the same opportunities as just about anyone else,” he says. “I only left because music brought me over to the States.”
“But when I moved here?” He laughs. “Oppression, oppression, oppression. It’s like immigrants don’t exist here.”
The couple says they are two of the lucky ones, having been able to carve out successful lives here in America. Ann has a master’s degree and loves her nursing job, and Teddy is making waves as a musician and event planner. But some of their colleagues didn’t have such good fortune.
A former neighbor and friend of the couple, who requested anonymity to speak candidly, phones in from Jamaica to talk briefly about her experience as a deportee.
“I worked hard all my life,” she starts, in a rich accent.
“I never did the things my colleagues did, because I couldn’t,” the woman said. “As an immigrant here, I couldn’t get involved in risky activities, you understand? I kept my head down, my nose clean, worked hard and tried to make a good life for myself here.” But that wasn’t enough.
“About a year after I’d settled in here, I got a letter in the mail. It was ICE (Immigration & Customs Enforcement), telling me I was to be deported. No questions asked, no explanation as to why. The sad thing is that my papers were just a few weeks away from arriving.”
The woman says she was given six weeks to get her affairs in order. By December 2014, she was back in Jamaica, and she says she is now banned from traveling to America again.
The Obama administration spelled hope for couples like Ann and Teddy—both of whom wholeheartedly support the former president as if he’s still in office.
President Obama entered the Oval Office on a promise to reform the U.S.’s broken immigration system. However, under his administration, deportations of undocumented immigrants reached record numbers. His successor, President Trump, has adopted a “zero tolerance” policy for undocumented immigrants seeking to enter the country and has also cracked down on legal forms of immigration. The White House has also sought to limit the number of visas issued to foreign nationals.
In 2017, the first year of the Trump administration, the U.S. issued nearly 14,000 immigrant visas to Jamaican nationals like Ann and Teddy, according to public data from the State Department. In 2016, the last full year of the Obama administration, nearly 15,500 immigrant visas were issued.
The couple says the new administration makes them fearful that their friends won’t be as fortunate as they have. Just last week, they say, another close friend was served deportation papers. He’d lived here peacefully for over a decade.
“Things are getting worse,” Rose claims. “With [President Trump] in office now, we can’t be content anymore,” she sighs. “If only Obama had four more years!”