Sun | Aug 14, 2022

Jamaican alleges profiling in Mexico shutout

Bona fide travellers squeezed as officials seek to plug human-smuggling route

Published:Friday | August 5, 2022 | 12:14 AMKimone Francis/Senior Staff Reporter

A 27-year-old Jamaican man who travelled to Mexico on Monday but who was denied entry by immigration officers has determined that he was wrongfully detained and sent back to the island as the number of Jamaicans being rejected by the North American...

A 27-year-old Jamaican man who travelled to Mexico on Monday but who was denied entry by immigration officers has determined that he was wrongfully detained and sent back to the island as the number of Jamaicans being rejected by the North American country grows.

Rajahni Cunningham, a computer science major at The University of the West Indies, was among a group of nine Jamaicans placed in a holding area at the Tocumen International Airport in Panama after being sent back on a flight from Mexico City a day after arriving.

Cunningham had spent approximately J$270,000 to make the trip, travelling from Kingston to Panama City and from there to Mexico City.

He was expected to travel on a domestic flight from the Mexican capital to San Luis Potosí, where his Jamaican fiancée, who teaches English in the central Mexico city, was waiting to receive him.

But the Jamaican’s troubles began when he arrived in Mexico City shortly after 1 a.m. and was interrogated by an immigration officer whose English was reportedly limited.

“I am disappointed. I am confused. I was unfairly treated without any explanation,” said Cunningham, who is not the holder of a United States visa.

“I was wondering, ‘What did I do wrong?’ until I realised that I was being profiled based on what they believe the situation was rather than what I had there to prove,” he added.

The Mexican government has toughened immigration processes on incoming Jamaicans amid growing concerns over an illegal human-smuggling corridor to the US.

The development has caused increased scrutiny of travellers on bona fide business or leisure trips as Jamaicans with criminal records or other red flags pay thousands of US dollars for safe passage across the border from Mexico into the US.

Middlemen charge up to J$300,000 a head.

The Gleaner contacted Mexican ambassador to Jamaica, Juan José González Mijares, who said that he could not comment on the matter.

In a Gleaner interview on Thursday, Cunningham said that he informed the immigration officer that he did not speak Spanish and asked if he could speak with someone familiar with English.

He said the official summoned a colleague who, too, spoke limited English.

He said he showed the two his travel itinerary and accommodation information after a request but noted that that did little to help his case.

The Jamaican said the officials asked him to follow them to a room where he was instructed to remove his shoelaces and belt and to empty his pockets.

He said he complied.

Cunningham said that he was then shown to a room with multiple beds.

Exhausted, he said that he took a nap before being called to another room, where he was reportedly forced to hurriedly sign several documents written only in Spanish.

He said some time before 4 a.m., he asked to make a phone call to his fiancée. His phone, which officials had reportedly confiscated, was returned, but he was not able to reach his partner, who said she had fallen asleep while waiting for his arrival in the country.

Cunningham said he was taken back to the holding area, where he fell asleep. He was awakened by a loud call from a man who shouted, “Jamaica!”

He said that without explanation, he was asked to gather his things and follow the police and other officials. He and a few other detainees were then subjected to a final luggage check before being instructed to follow the officers.

“Next, three men in suits labelled ‘Marine’ showed up and led us to the gate.

“On the flight status board was a flight stating Panama City. It was at this point that I finally realised that I would be sent back to Jamaica,” Cunningham told The Gleaner.

His request to speak with someone who knew English was denied, he said, as well as a request to contact his fiancée.

He said that his cell phone was returned to him only after he boarded the flight in Panama City for Kingston.

Cunningham arrived in the island shortly after 2 p.m. on Wednesday.

The Jamaican and his fiancée have been trying desperately to get an explanation. None has been forthcoming.

“It’s a terrible feeling to be treated inhumanely. I repeatedly asked for someone who spoke English, and to be denied that was really unfair,” said Cunningham.

Furthermore, he said throughout his ordeal, he was fed only once.

There was a more than 60 per cent surge in travel between Jamaica and Mexico in 2021. Data forecasts show that approximately 12,000 Jamaicans will travel to Mexico this year.

Panama is usually the first port of call of the human-smuggling scheme.