National Security Minister Gary Griffith yesterday knocked his colleague, Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Dookeran, for making promises on travel between T&T and Jamaica with that country's foreign minister, AJ Nicholson, without first consulting him.
In fact, even as Dookeran made a pledge with Nicholson to free up travel to this country for Jamaicans, Griffith maintained he was not backing down on his decision to boot "undesirables" from other Caribbean countries out of T&T, insisting that people who enter this country under the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME) programme continued to be a burden on the State and could further escalate the crime situation."T&T is not a mall, where anyone will be allowed entry," Griffith said.
His statement came in the wake of a commitment by Dookeran to his Jamaican counterpart on Tuesday to open up trade and travel between the two countries and across the region.Dookeran offered the commitment after Nicholson invited him to Kingston for talks, following the deportation of 13 Jamaicans from Piarco Airport on November 19.
At a press conference at the Foreign Affairs Ministry at the Waterfront Complex, Port-of-Spain, yesterday, Dookeran said during the two-day talks, Jamaica and T&T had agreed that changes were required in the way immigration authorities in T&T and elsewhere in the Caribbean treated Caribbean visitors.
He said it was agreed an immigration officer had a right to exercise his authority, but under the new requirements of Caricom law this must be done with discretion. He said it was agreed the new processes must be put into a legal framework.
Griffith: Not negotiable
In a telephone interview yesterday, however, Griffith maintained that since the Immigration Department fell under his purview, any changes dealing with such issues, including directives to be given to immigration officers, could only be done by either him or the National Security Council."I want to remind everyone that the Immigration Division falls under the National Security Ministry...That has not changed," Griffith said.
"All immigration officers have been advised to adhere to regulations of the Immigration Act Chapter 18:01 and there would be no change to that unless through the National Security Council."Immigration officers will continue to perform their duty by thoroughly verifying all persons to ensure they meet the full requirements, and if they do not meet those requirements, they would not be allowed entry into T&T. It's as simple as that."
He reiterated that there were some 30,000 illegal immigrants in T&T, including Jamaicans, St Lucians, Grenadians, those from other Caribbean islands and from South Africa, who had abused the "CSME's good faith," and they would all be immediately shipped back once located.
"These people have not only put a strain on the public's purse but also on the country's health and housing sectors. They have no BIR number, therefore they are not paying any taxes. Some even turn to a life of crime and this action cannot be condoned," Griffith said."I have a job to do and that is to ensure the sovereignty of this country and the security of its citizens. There would be no elements of flexibility. This is not negotiable. The buck stops with me."
$2.3m spent on deportations
Saying T&T would adhere to the ruling of the CSME and would welcome all visitors, Griffith said, nevertheless, those who desire to work in this country must prove they have all relevant documents and could satisfy the requirements upon landing at Piarco Airport.He said the problem of illegal immigrants had been a problem to this country for "far too long" and had reached the point where it could affect the country's credibility and also put T&T under the scrutiny of its international partners.
"The ports of legal entry have been the biggest problem for far too long and that is why we are in the situation that we are now in," Griffith said.Another dimension to the problem of illegal immigrants was the heavy financial cost associated with deportation, he said. He said for the last year, the Government had spent some $2.3 million on deporting illegal immigrants."Not only do we have to buy their ticket, but we also have to send an immigration officer and a police officer to accompany these people," he said.
Asked why he had not accompanied Dookeran on the trip to Jamaica, Griffith said he was not invited, but insisted it was a matter involving immigration and national security."The invitation was sent only for the Foreign Affairs Minister, not me, although the issue of immigration was at the forefront of discussions. I did, however, send my chief immigration officer to accompany Mr Dookeran," he said.