When the sexual abuse came, not only from my biological mother’s boyfriends, but from my uncles too, I tried to tell my grandfather and he didn’t believe me. I told anyone I who would listen. My grandfather put us an orphanage and beat me for telling lies about his sons. I quickly learned no one wanted to hear about sexual abuse and you just got in to trouble for telling anyone. While in the orphanage we were abused, not fed properly and used by the orphanage to get donations from the United States. The donations would come in they would take pictures with us and send the pictures back to the states and then take all of gifts away. By this time my biological mother was in the United States going on with her life. One day my sister and I were adopted by an American military family. I now had 4 sisters and two brothers (one of them also adopted in Panama). We started living as a family, on the Army base called Fort Clayton in Panama. We went to school, swam, and received medical care and life was good. At the same time, it was not the easiest transition to be adopted into a family with existing biological children who were treated differently. You start to think you can be better so you can be loved like them. You start to be not mind being introduced as “Anissa who is adopted.”
When it came time for my dad to leave Panama we were all packed up and the US Army moved us to the states. I thought this would be the best thing for me, that I would live happily ever after. One day in the States I was playing soccer in gym class and fell and my calf started to swell. My parents did not know my medical history. I was taken to the base clinic where they thought it was a pulled muscle. Eventually they discovered that it was cancer. Because my father was in the military, we were flown to Washington DC to Walter Reed medical hospital immediately for me to have more tests done. In 1986 I had my left leg amputated 3 inches above the knee. I would hear, “Don’t be ungrateful--if you were not adopted you would have been dead from cancer.” Though I wanted to run away, I could not go anywhere, were was I going to go? I was a walking medical bill. I had to hear about how much my prosthetic legs cost. How it was too expensive and how the insurance was paying but once I turned 18 they did not know how it was going to be paid. How I better find a husband with insurance and marry quickly.
I did. After graduating high school in 1990 I married my first husband, the father of my daughter. Although we were married for 11 years, legally we were together for less than one year. I became a single mother, juggling multiple jobs and subsisting on welfare when there was no work. I did not receive child support. In 2003 I committed a crime and was convicted in 2004 of grand larceny. I pled guilty to the charge. My public defendant told me it was the best I would get and I believed him. I was sentenced to one to three years in prison. I was told I would be out in three months on work release.
When I went to the women’s prison for processing, I received a visit from ICE who treated me like I came in the country illegally. I was asked, “How did you get to the country?,” “What border did you cross?”, and “Who brought you here?” I explained I was adopted and my father brought me in to the states on military orders and I was daughter to US citizens’. They didn’t believe me. I was then sent to Albion women’s prison and became eligible for my work release but I could not be released because I now had an immigration hold on me. I contacted my parents they did not even show up for court. They said they did not want to get in trouble. They did the best they could and this was happening because I broke the law. By then I had been in prison for a year and the state did not want me in their custody anymore. I was then taken to Bedford hills again and I was going to be released if ICE did not show up for me.
ICE showed up, told me my parents did not finalize my adoption and I would be deported. I was taken into ICE custody, then to a county jail in New Jersey. At every court date my lawyer would say, “You will not be deported, what they are doing to you is illegal. You will win this.” She would make me feel better. Then on the way back to the jail the ICE officers would tell me I would be deported. Then my lawyer died of an asthma attack.
In 2006 I was deported to Jamaica, a country I left when I was 6 years old. I landed in Jamaica and was taken into a room and questioned for what seemed like an eternity, they did not believe I was Jamaican. I asked them, “If you don’t believe I’m a Jamaican why did you accept me?” They could not answer; I was set free. It was night time, I had no money, I knew I had family there but did not know them. I was in Kingston and I was supposed to be in Montego Bay but there was no way for me to get to the other side of the island. I had kept in touch with a woman from a church and when I was able to make a collect call I did and they sent someone to the airport to pick me up. My prosthetic leg was broken and I was deported just like that. I had to leave Jamaica because there was not future there myself and my daughter. I also had a Panamanian citizenship so I packed up what little we had and moved. Even since then I have been living here In Panama. I had to pull my daughter out of school and send her back to the states to get her GED. I could not afford her schooling here in Panama in a private school and I could not put her in public schools. She is now 22 years old and has had two years of college. We are both alive and trying to make it. She suffers from depression due to our situation and so do I. Ever since I got to Panama I have been trying to find a way to legally get back to my family and the country and culture that I know. I have a hard time adjusting to this culture and just want to be able to be close to my daughter. As for my parents, I’m still that 11 year old girl that just wants a mom or dad. We have not spoken in probably 6 years after I dared questioning the reason why was my paper work not completed.
I get that I broke the law. I get I had to do time in prison for it. What I don’t get is how I can be deported to a place I don’t know when my parents are US citizens and--furthermore-- my birth certificate lists my parents as US citizens.
Anissa is an adult adoptee. Adopted in Panama City, Panama 1985 by a military family stationed at the military base. Deported in 2006 after a run in with law to her country of birth Jamaica. She is a wife and a mother. Since her deportation she has remarried and does volunteer work at the local orphanages including the one she lived in as a child. She enjoys bathing her five boxers (dogs), frequent visits to the temple and just relaxing. She is also looking forward to one day being reunited with the family that adopted her.