My mom could have been like them. At 11, she left the small island for America. But her parents and older sister found work to support their family. They lived in a safe neighborhood, studied, and became citizens when eligible. Not all were as privileged as my mother. They were returned.
In Brava, the smallest of the Cape Verde Islands, approximately 1 in 50 residents were returned to their birthplace -- all from the United States. Their growing numbers represent what anthropologist Dr. Heike Drotbohm refers to as "a new social minority" on the small island (pop. 5,000) where my mother was born and where my family dates back over six generations.
Like my mother, most of Brava's deportees legally immigrated to America, as children, with their families. Because they did not become citizens, their various encounters with the legal system ultimately cost them their right to live in America.
These people, many of whom had no memory of their birthplace, were returned to an impoverished island where they are rejected by their own people for what is viewed as having squandered the coveted opportunity to leave in pursuit of a better life. "You come here and even your own race they look down on you,” says Daniel da Silva Santos, who left at age 5 and was returned at age 29.
As an American-born Capeverdean, I see this story as an example of how intertwined issues of poverty, education, criminal justice, and immigration policy in the United States can have far reaching consequences, even into the smallest and most remote corners of the world.
As Jack Soares (who left at age 7 and was returned 24 years ago at age 23) told me, "This is like a life sentence."