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Dealing with the scourge of illegal immigrants
I read with interest the recent newspaper article which highlighted comments by Minister Warner about the illegal immigration problems that seem to be plaguing the country. He indicated that 750 illegal immigrants were deported over the last two years and that he communicates daily with an Immigration Officer assigned to his Ministry.
He identified a number of actions intended to deal with illegal immigrants inclusive of an aggressive deportation policy, purchasing of interceptor vessels to patrol the waters for persons attempting to enter illegally and the establishment of coastal police stations; however typically, he chose not to disclose all the details about these coastal police stations.
Although not in the article, I can only speculate that the minister may have also spoken about the negative impact of illegal immigrants in our country. Illegal immigrants knowingly break our law by entering and/or overstaying. They also secure jobs that should go to our nationals, yet business owners hire them anyway because these illegal immigrants are typically paid less than minimum wage and in many instances are provided with very sub-standard housing accommodation.
For these reasons and others, Barbados jealously yet effectively guards its borders and local jobs are steered to citizens, as much as possible. However, it is indeed commendable that the minister is personally taking an interest in dealing with this problem but one wonders to what extent is he working hard, as opposed to working smart, in his efforts to aggressively stamp out this plague.
To start with, in a 2010 publication by the International Organization for Migration, it was conservatively estimated that over 25,000 illegal immigrants live and work in T&T. To have deported 750 over the last two years is a small step but one in the right direction. However, as you deport, more keep streaming into the country.
Let me respectfully suggest that, firstly, he should consider taking equally aggressive actions to amend the legislation to include significantly stiffer penalties and jail time for the many business owners in the country that deliberately and wilfully bring in and hire illegal immigrants. Culprits in particular are owners of supermarkets, gas stations, security companies and construction companies.
Many of these culprits are known to officers of the Immigration Division. Simply put, by removing the temptation of “milk and honey”, the flow will dissipate. Secondly, establish performance and monitoring standards for the Immigration Division pertaining to investigation and repatriation of illegal immigrants that have been detained by the State.
These performance standards should cover strict and prescribed time lines for the completion of investigations by the Investigations Section, as well as specific time lines for repatriating illegal detainees to their respective countries. Thirdly, take step to reform the Immigration Division so as to bring it out of the dark ages and into the 21st century.
As it relates to the aspect of illegal detainees, take steps to ensure that adequate manpower is provided to the Immigration Division, but also ensure systems are in place to monitor performance against agreed standards pertaining to investigations and repatriation of detainees.
Fourthly, take steps to reduce chronic overcrowding and related immigration issues at the Immigration Detention Centre in Aripo. That facility, contrary to what may have been told to you, can only hold a maximum of 75 detainees in total; yet numbers exceed 100 plus on a regular basis. This is unacceptable overcrowding, which is in contravention of basis human rights of illegal detainees.
In addition, the average cost of feeding and clothing a detainee at the Immigration Detention Centre is approximately $3,800—$4,200 a month. It is laudable to bring in interceptor vessels and build coastal police stations to assist in securing our coastlines; but the solution is not always about throwing money at the problem.
It is evident that much can be done in other ways to protect our borders and in so doing, minimise the onslaught of illegal immigrants bound for our shores.
Dr Franklin Ali,
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