Family split between New York, Trinidad and Tobago over covid19

ON March 21, one-month-old baby K looked like she would make it back to Trinidad from New York City. Her parents, both police officers who want to remain anonymous, moved their flights up from March 26 to that date, a Saturday, because TT’s borders were closing at midnight on March 22.

Baby K had her US birth certificate, social security number and US passport. She did not have a TT passport because the consulate in New York had already closed because of the covid19 pandemic. But her parents – let’s call them call Rob Read and Betty Smith – weren’t worried, because they knew the baby was a TT citizen through their citizenship.

Then came the decision they hope no one else will ever have to make again. “At the airline counter, we were told only passengers with TT passports could board the plane,” says Read. The airline counter staff, who were deciding who could board the flight, said the baby couldn’t travel to Trinidad.

“We told them we work in protective services, and we need to be in our country,” says Read.

“They refused. We had to make a decision who would go and who would stay. Would we split up the family? Should we all stay in New York?”

The city is the epicentre of the pandemic in the US. As of May 7, there had been over 19,400 deaths there.

“We decided I would go back with our three-year-old son so that I could return to work to take care of the family.”

So Baby K and her mother remained in New York City. “I cried right through. I couldn’t contain myself,” says Smith.

“I watched my son and husband leave, and took a cab back to where I was staying with friends.”

Six weeks later, she still can’t fathom how families like hers became separated in the mad rush to return home.

“We’re basically sitting and waiting,” says Read. “It’s hard. She has to stay with friends. The exchange rate makes living hard up there.”

In a matter of days, Baby K’s family went from celebrating a new addition to struggling to cope with a family split in two.

Read says, “Once covid19 hit America, everything snowballed so quickly. Before you knew it, you were in a room locked up all day waiting for your travel day to come.

“It reached a time when people were sceptical to let you in their home, so you had to stay where you were.

“Even the baby’s vaccinations were difficult to get, because private doctors had to close down. It took a month to get an appointment, and that was moved up.”

“It’s hard, because my son is in Trinidad and I am here,” says Smith. “I call my son and talk during the day. I’m just here counting down the days to return to go home. I don’t go out except on Tuesdays to do the laundry and get some essentials from the grocery store. I try to keep myself safe to protect the baby. My husband’s aunt brings some groceries and Pampers for me.

“I just want to come home.”

Time passes slowly as both parents think of how they were prevented of being together as a family. They will spend Mother’s Day, “like every other day, online,” says Read.

“We spend family time on the screen. There’s a lot of people trapped outside there, and their conditions are not good. People don’t know how hard it is and how expensive it is.”

Baby K’s parents have been in touch with the Immigration Division in Trinidad, where they plan to apply for a passport as soon as they return. We didn’t apply for a passport up there because the office was closed, and if they were open, I was told it could take up to three months,” says Smith.

Read and Smith say they don’t want to appear critical of the government. They just don’t want the power of such important decisions as to who can return home to TT in such a crisis to be put in the hands of airline workers. “I think they should have put us on an airline and let immigration deal with us – even if it meant quarantine in Trinidad,” both parents say. “We would have agreed to anything, if we could have only come home,” says Smith.


"Family split between New York, Trinidad and Tobago over covid19"

More in this section