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Patrick Thaxter is a former chef who now works quietly in the kitchen of a good friend in Germantown, Philadelphia. Originally from Jamaica, he traveled to the U.S. for a soccer tournament eighteen years ago. On that trip, he met an American woman at a Miami club and the two fell in love. After impressing her with his curry chicken recipe, as he recounts, the two got married; he obtained a greencard; and eventually, they had three daughters.
Later on, Patrick became head chef of Mango Bush, a popular Jamaican restaurant, where many customers once flocked for his curry chicken and stewed peas. Patrick’s life was suddenly shook up after his brother passed away. The restaurant closed down for a month while he took care of the funeral matters in Kingston, the brothers’ hometown. Now short on cash, Patrick accepted a friend’s risky offer for help – and ended up getting arrested for a marijuana offense in Philadelphia. Instead of prison time, however, Patrick was sentenced to probation, which was later reduced to two years.
ICE arrested Patrick at one of his probation visits. As a greencard holder, ICE could deport Patrick over this one and only conviction from years back. Like many immigrants with old convictions, Patrick feared he would be banned from the U.S. – from his daughters, his craft, and his community – for life.
A cruel double punishment that U.S. immigration law allows for and regularly imposes on non-citizens.
The Criminalization of Black Immigrants
“What happened to Patrick and his family happened not just because he’s an immigrant but also because he’s black and because he is working class,” says Carl Lipscombe of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI), who co-authored the landmark study on Black migrants in the U.S.
Patrick’s story is emblematic of the particular struggles of Black people caught between our discriminatory criminal legal and immigration systems — from policing to punishment. It speaks to the ways in which multiple forms of injustice intersect to criminalize and funnel Black immigrants, in particular, into the detention and deportation machine. Like Patrick, roughly 7% of non-citizens in the U.S. are Black immigrants — and yet Black immigrants comprise 21% of those in deportation proceedings as a result of criminal convictions.
“Black immigrants like African Americans, live in communities that are over policed, heavily policed and thus they’re more likely to be arrested and then more likely to go through the criminal justice system. But offenses involving drugs are common in all communities,” Lipscombe says.
His fight to stay with his daughters, to continue working his craft, and living his life against the double punishment of deportation is powerful. And fits squarely within Black Philadelphians’ long history of resistance to police violence and oppression. For immigrants of color who have been impacted by the criminal legal system, Patrick’s words resonate, “I was fighting my case before Trump came into office and I’m still fighting my case. I’m gonna fight. That’s all.”
Patrick: I love cooking you know. I’m a great cook here in Philadelphia. A lot of people know me as chef you know. They call me chef Shaggy. But since I got locked up I lost everything. I spent three year of my career in prison fighting immigration.
WC: You are listening to Indefensible. “We do not need new laws. We will work within the existing system and framework. We are going to get the bad ones out.” “Some very sad situations arise when you create a blanket category of people who are going to be deported.” “What happened to Patrick and his family happened not just because he’s an immigrant but also because he’s black and because he is working class.” Stories of people resisting deportation. This is Will Coley. “So, what are you doing now?”
Patrick: Well today I’m using pig’s tail. I’m putting chicken foot and I’m using ox tail, stewed peas and some red kidney bean.
WC: Today we’re in the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia. Patrick Baxter is making Jamaican stewed peas. It’s not his kitchen. A friend lets Patrick stay for free if he helps out around the house.
Patrick: You’re not rushing it. You know you just want to take your time and slow cook you know.
WC: Patrick is a reserved guy who comes alive in the kitchen. He has a medium build, a round face, short cropped hair and dark brown skin.
Patrick: In 1999 I came to the United States to play soccer tournament in Miami, Florida. I met Tonya, my wife, in Miami at that club. I already have my eyes on her and she like dance and our eyes meet. I go over and introduce myself and tell her, ‘My name is Patrick Thaxter from Kingston, Jamaica.’ We brought back music with share our story on you know. I start to call her. In three months’ time, I moved to Philadelphia. First thing I do is make some curried chicken. She liked it you know so I fall in love with her and um I do say she’s the one. And then I decide I’m not going back to Jamaica.
WC: So, they got married. Tonya sponsored him to get his green card or permanent residence. But in the bustle of starting a family and work, Patrick didn’t take the next step to apply to become a full-fledged U.S. citizen.
Patrick: Yo. Be right here man. I got someone talking with me you know. Yeah but immigration thing. Is ah what you call it. Is that real station not to come on air. “Podcast” Podcast you know at the station. “ITunes” ITunes. Yeah. What kind of fish? Red snapper. Oh, you want it fried?
WC: Friends and family call Patrick all the time for advice on cooking. “So, what are you taking out the knuckles in there? Is that what that is?”
Patrick: Yeah, yeah. I have to cut it off.
WC: Patrick became head chef at a Jamaican restaurant in Philadelphia. His daughters sometimes helped out there. Uriah is 15 years old, Amira 14 and Destiny who just turned 11.
Patrick: My kids them like everything I cook so you know. To those things was difficult for me. So, me and my wife was going through difficult time and we were separate you know. But I was still being a father for my kids and go by them house, make them meal. My brother died actually and I went down there for the funeral. I spent a month.
WC: Patrick went to Jamaica for his brother’s funeral. The restaurant closed down while he was gone. When he got back he was short on cash. He needed help to reopen so he reached out to a friend.
Patrick: Him give me some I wanted to sell so I said I don’t have no customer. He said he know somebody who needs something. So, him say I could take it to a person.
WC: Patrick admits it’s easy to find marijuana in Jamaica.
Patrick: In Jamaica, it’s like nothing. People grow marijuana in them back yard.
WC: You knew it was illegal here, though right?
Patrick: Yeah, yeah. I know it was illegal here you know but I was dumb and stupid, taking a risk. The risk wasn’t worth it. I was sitting in my car. I said, ‘He not coming.’ So, when I look I see two men jump out of a jeep. So, I start to drive. I didn’t know who it was.
WC: Patrick thought he was being robbed but he couldn’t call for help. He drove off and they chased him. Soon there was a helicopter in pursuit. Suddenly police cars stopped him. That’s when he realized.
Patrick: Oh shit these are cops you know.
WC: So, you didn’t know they were police.
Patrick: No I didn’t know they were police because they didn’t have on a uniform. And it was an unmarked vehicle. Police was watching that person you know and I didn’t know. So, when I take it over here I get busted. It was a state police. Look. Came out the next day. Get bail. And I start to go court. I got seven charges so them. Them hit me real hard you know but four of those charge was dismissed and they had a three stuck. It was tamper with evidence.
WC: Why did you do it? ‘Cause you tried to get rid of the marijuana?”
Patrick: Yeah. And um possession with intent to deliver. And um reckless endanger.
Patrice: Excuse my condition.
WC: That’s okay how are you?
Patrice: I’m great.
WC: I’m Will.
WC: That’s Patrick’s longtime friend. We’re in her house. Patrick has been staying here for five months.
Patrice: I know Mr. Baxter back in ’06. I met him in ’06. Um he’s a good friend of mine and he’s also my daughter’s godfather.
WC: And. And what do you think about the fact that he got in trouble with the marijuana stuff?
Patrice: No that’s not Patrick at all. It was a shocker to me when I found out from the same friend who I met him through. She’s like, ‘You know he got locked up for that.’ I’m like, huh? Why he does this? Like they sure it was his? I always knew him as a chef. He’s own restaurant you know do cooking in other restaurants. So, this was like a slap in the face, marijuana.
WC: Carl Lipscombe from the Black Alliance for Just Immigration says Patrick experienced what many black immigrants encounter in the U.S.
Carl: I think his experience isn’t uncommon. Black immigrants like African Americans, live in communities that are over policed, heavily policed and thus they’re more likely to be arrested and then more likely to go through the criminal justice system. But offenses involving drugs are common in all communities. You know if we went out into the suburbs or into these college towns and did a sweep of any building we’d find white suburbanites with marijuana in their drawers or on their tables. Um but that’s not what’s happening. Police aren’t in those communities.
WC: Patrick fought his case for several years. To avoid prison time Patrick was sentenced to nine years’ probation, but it was reduced to two years.
Patrick: I was still being a father for my kids, go by them house, make them meals, pick them up in the morning, take them to school, pick them up from school. On weekends, them come spend weekends with me. You know, do thing together, sit down and help them with their homework. Well I was. I was going to my probation officer at the time. Immigration was waiting on me at the probation office.
WC: Patrick’s lawyer in criminal court didn’t tell him that his conviction could lead to deportation.
Patrick hadn’t yet received U.S. citizenship. Even though he never served prison time, the conviction was enough for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, to arrest him. Now he had to fight for the right to stay in the U.S. With U.S. citizenship, this wouldn’t have happened.
Patrick: So, I was in York Prison fighting my case.
WC: ICE took Patrick to York County Prison, an hour and a half drive from Philadelphia. The facility detains more than 600 immigrants. Patrick got free legal help from attorney Dan Conklin who was working for a legal services non-profit.
Dan Conklin: People with an attorney are four or five more times likely to succeed in their case or succeed in whatever application they file or avoid deportation. The immigration law’s written where pretty much any controlled substance offense, other than one offense of simple possession of marijuana, less than 30 grams, is a deportable offense. So, there’s a lot of people who are placed in deportation proceedings for drug related crimes. For example, in Patrick’s case, that’s the only criminal case he’s had where he’s been convicted of any offense. And he has you know three citizen children and I think he’s always been a very good dad. And I think that he has a great deal of remorse for what led him to being placed in the deportation proceedings that happened ten years ago. Um so I think it’s important he. He be allowed to make his argument as to why he should be given a second chance.
Patrick: Being locked up in York it’s rough you know. And I locked up with every nation there fighting immigration. The judge he was. He was hard on me because I told him I was dumb and stupid at first time selling marijuana. I tell him I have my three kids here. I just want to be with them to be a father you know. And apologize to the judge.
WC: But the immigration judge ordered him deported or removed. Patrick challenged the decision to the Board of Immigration Appeals. When that didn’t work, he appealed to the 3rd Circuit Court. He waited and endured and his family came to visit him in detention.
Patrick: It was emotion. My kids, them start to cry. I start to cry myself you know. So, kids, them start to lose them grades you know. Their mom lose our place. She get evict you know so she moved to Georgia. She have a sister down there. You know she decide to go down there to start over back again with her sister. So I. I’d say you know what honestly, I pray for my kids just kind of condition my mind, taking myself outside and know you’re locked up now. How can I get out you know? What can I do you know? So, I start facing yourself.
WC: Immigration law is complex and difficult to navigate. To decipher the 1996 Immigration Act, an entire practice of law has developed over the past 20 years. Lawyers have litigated the very definition of what constitutes an aggravated felony, offenses that result in mandatory detention and deportation. Patrick’s lawyer was able to get him a bond hearing. That meant Patrick could be released while his deportation case is pending. Patrick had been detained for three years. Patrick’s friend Patrice, was willing to give him help when he needed it most.
Patrice: Consider giving him a second try. I have an extra bedroom. I say why not help him out. He helped me out when I needed him. You know. I mean he doesn’t work for enough money. So, I make him keep his money and take care of the girls. You know he always think about the girls. The girls you know. So, he’s a big help.
Patrick: Since I came here I’m driving fork lift. I like it job. It’s okay you know. I’m always stay inside because you know I just want to keep safe environment around me. You know things I used to do I don’t do no more like go by friends. You know just get up, work, home, work, home. Soon as my case finish I move from Philly, go to Georgia. “Hello.” ‘Yes Uriah, what’s up?’ “Daddy when you coming down here for Christmas?” ‘Eh?’ “When you coming down here for Christmas.” ‘Yeah.’
WC: Patrick is planning to drive to Georgia to see his children at Christmas. He has only three days off work. He’s driving 13 hours down to see them and then 13 hours back.
Patrick and daughters: Daddy I said when.” “When?” “Yeah.” “Who this? Amira?” “Yes.” “Hey what’s up Amira, how you doing?” “Good.” “Okay. So, you okay with momma?” “Yes.” “Okay. I’m cooking some stewed peas. What your momma making for Christmas? What kind of food you want?” “Curried chicken.” “Curried chicken?” “Yes.” “Okay. I buy some curry and carry it with me. Tell your mom buy chicken.”
WC: Patrick wants to open a restaurant in Georgia to be closer to his daughters. But he doesn’t want to move until his immigration case is finished. He is being extra careful because the stakes are so high.
WC: But if you go back. If they send you back to Jamaica how long before you can come back to the United States?
Patrick: Well it. It all depends because some people them banned for life. I dunno um what them will tell me if I go back to Jamaica. I just mix some flour. Mix up the flour, make a dough. I pick it up like this. I do like this and drop it in the pot.
WC: Have you changed your opinion of the United States or like what happened to you and everything?
Patrick: Oh no. you see I learned a lot from it so it was good and it was bad you know.
WC: What was good about it?
Patrick: It made me look into myself and see what I really want to do in life, where I want to go, you know.
WC: Cooking Jamaican food takes attention and a lot of time. Patrick is prepared to fight until he wins the right to stay with his family in the U.S. As a result, his immigration case has dragged out for more than three years, most of it while he was detained. Carl Lipscombe of BAJI, says deportation cases like Patrick’s run counter to American values.
Carl: Deportation is a form of. Of punishment. People should start thinking about whether it’s really right for someone that’s been punished by our criminal justice system and has served their time, to face further punishment.” This March, Patrick has the final hearing on his case. He has been waiting for this moment for a long time. Dan Conklin explains what they need to prove to the judge.
DC: Now he. He’s at a place in his case where he’s going to have an opportunity to show an immigration judge why his positive factors outweigh the negative factor that led him to being placed in deportation proceedings. I think it’s important that people be allowed to make their case as to why they deserve a second chance. You know for themselves, for their families and sometimes for. For our country because it. It benefits us to have intact families.
WC: Hi it’s Will.
WC: Hi, can you hear me okay?
Patrick: Yeah. I could hear.
WC: I call Patrick after the hearing. Patrick’s ex-wife and children drove up from Georgia to attend. They weren’t allowed inside. The judge asked Patrick about his children, his job and if he’d learned his lesson.
Patrick: The judge asked me a question about my family then not talk to me about the marijuana. She said all my paperwork speaks of these things you know.
WC: His lawyer, Dan Conklin, submitted reams of documents and years of evidence, Patrick’s tax statements and character references from his job.
Patrick: I was crying too you know.
WC: Why were you crying?
Patrick: Yeah because every time that she think of my kids.
WC: And then he had questions from the trial attorney, the opposing lawyer in court who argues why someone should be deported. She asked him about the restaurant he wants to open.
Patrick: She said, “What kind of food?” So, I said, ‘Curried chicken, jerk chicken, stewed chicken, oxtail. And I got my own recipe to make mango chicken.’ It’s just so they could season. She said, “Tell me.” I tell her I could season up my chicken and pour mango juice in it when I season it up and make it marinate overnight.
WC: The hearing lasted an hour.
Patrick: She make the decision right there in front of me and my lawyer and then my lawyer you know he. He pat me on my back you know. And I tell him, ‘Congratulations.’
WC: The judge granted him cancellation of removal and the trial attorney said she wouldn’t appeal the decision. After all these years, Patrick finally won his case. That means Patrick won’t be deported and he can get his green card back. This was huge, especially since the vast majority of people with similar charges are unable to receive this relief. Patrick is planning to stay in Philadelphia because he’s still on probation. He wants to resolve that case and save some money before moving to Georgia. But he promised the judge that he’s not going to make a bad decision again. He’s still keeping a low profile.
Patrick: I’m not going to get in trouble. I’m right in the house. I go to the barbershop and get my haircut and come right back.
WC: The Trump Administration wants to quickly deport people like Patrick, people with convictions who still have the legal right to fight to stay with their families. Patrick is also fighting for the guys he met in detention.
Patrick: I’m not worried that much because I was fighting my case before Trump came into office and I’m still fighting my case. I’m gonna fight. That’s all. Don’t sign no paper but keep on fight. Keep fighting. Never quit. Not over ‘til it over.
WC: You’ve been listening to Indefensible. This podcast is brought to you with the support of Immigrant Defense Project and the Four Freedoms Fund. Andrew Ingkavet composed the music. Calla Leah edited this episode. Ann Pope is our audio engineer. Special thanks to Tina Shull, Terry Ding, Rachel Levenson, Sarah Burningham, Ruth Morris, Sarah Richards, Randy Scott Carroll and Amy Gottlieb. Join us next week for another episode of Indefensible. Be sure to subscribe on ITunes or wherever you get your podcasts.