Bernaldo Groves, Convicted of Attempted Murder, Wishes He’d Bothered to Become A U.S. Citizen

Saturday, October 25, 2003

Bernaldo Groves admits he did something stupid.

He’s not talking about the assault and robbery that got him 21/2 years in prison. Or even the failure to show up for meetings with his probation officer, which cost him an additional 10 years in Northern State Prison in Newark, N.J.

What was stupid, he says, was not getting his U.S. citizenship when he had the chance.

“My mom kept saying, ‘Go get your citizenship! Go get your citizenship!”‘ he remembers. But unlike his sister and five brothers, he didn’t listen.

“Why?” he’d say to her. He had his green card, he would explain, “so I wasn’t in no hurry.”

Now he knows why. If he were a citizen, he might still be getting in trouble, but he couldn’t have been deported for it. He was sent back to Jamaica in 2001, 24 years after he immigrated to the United States at the age of 15.

Now, he sleeps in a park in Halfway Tree, one of the meanest neighborhoods in Kingston.

“If I knew they were going to do what they did,” he says, he would have heeded his mother’s advice. Still, he insists, the price he’s paying is too high.

“They sent me back to Jamaica where I have nobody and no one,” he says. “When I got off the plane I had one U.S dollar. I didn’t have nowhere to go. I didn’t have no one to go to.”

Groves says the law under which he was deported – the 1996 Anti–terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act – should be used to go after terrorists, not people like him.

Like most Americans, Groves remembers where he was when the planes crashed into the World Trade towers on Sept. 11, 2001. From the prison exercise yard in Newark, he could see the smoke rising from the towers. Prison officials confirm he was serving a sentence for assault and robbery there at the time.

Groves says he remembers the empty feeling in the pit of his stomach, how he worried there would be more terrorist acts to follow, and how he feared for the safety of his wife and six children.

“It affected me like it did everyone else,” he says. “And now they’re treating us like we were the ones who blew up those damn buildings. OK. I didn’t get citizenship. My ignorance. But I tell you what, it wasn’t fair for them to send me back after I had been away for so long.”

Groves says he gets money from his family from time to time, but it doesn’t last, and he can’t find a job. After a few days renting a bed at the Salvation Army headquarters, Groves says, he’s back on the street again where he’s easy prey for local cutthroats.

“It was so bad I was thinking of committing a crime here – like the others do – just to go to jail so I can have a place to sleep,” he says. But he says he promised himself that no one would ever lock him up again.

Groves says his short–term goal is to stay clean of drugs. His long term goal is find a way to come up with $2,500 so he can buy himself a new identity and the phony papers he needs to get a visa to return to his wife and children the United States.

That, says Groves, is worth risking jail for.