The Ministry of National Security is moving to clamp down on illegal immigrants entering Trinidad and Tobago as 15 beaches have now been identified as major points of entry for this activity.
It comes as the country continues to grapple with the spread of the Brazilian Variant of the COVID-19 disease, first discovered in a test sample from a Venezuelan national.
At a press conference yesterday, National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds revealed these steps would include the soon launch of maritime patrols by the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service via its recently reinstituted police maritime branch, the use of drones, the recovery of all the laws about the Civil Asset Recovery and Management and Unexplained Wealth Act, and ongoing polygraph tests for police officers to ensure there was no facilitation of border breaches.
The Government will also purchase two cape class vessels from the Australian Government to add to T&T’s Coast Guard fleet.
Hinds said yesterday’s conference was called after citizens became traumatised by a video widely circulated last Saturday of Spanish-speaking natives disembarking a boat at a beach’s shoreline while people waited in cars for them.
The video turned out to be a scene captured of illegal immigrants entering Puerto Rico.
However, Hinds admitted that it resonated with T&T’s own issue of porous borders.
“The Prime Minister using his prime ministerial capacity and vision and wisdom and the respect that he has acquired in the international community and the respect that he has for the other elements in the international community was able to negotiate with the Australian Government and to order with their help two cape class vessels, which I am happy to let you the people of Trinidad and Tobago and know are expected sometime soon,” said Hinds.
He said the vessels would join the fleet that the Coast Guard has at its disposal to expand the country’s capacity to interdict and treat border issues better.
Regarding the 15 beaches discovered to be the main entry points, Hinds said he could not go into details on what would be done.
However, he said those beaches would come under immediate and serious focus. He said based on the report before him, it was quite clear the beaches were active points of illegal entry.
He noted the report also revealed clear information that there were citizens of T&T who were facilitating the border breaches.
Hinds said, however, there were implications for such dealings.
In a bid to also unearth illegitimate wealth earned through illegal means, Hinds revealed he was already in discussions with Attorney General (AG) Faris Al Rawi on the instruction of Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley to ensure all of the laws of T&T including civic assets recovery laws (Explain Your Wealth) were reinforced.
“So those of you who have wealth and have money and have assets, you may be very well called upon in a short time to begin to account to the authorities under those laws for your acquisitions. So the die…plural (sic) are still rolling, they’re not settled yet,” he warned.
He said it was in the context that it was the job of all law enforcement inclusive of the courts and the whole criminal justice system that he has asked the AG to provide the guidance and to ensure that all procedures were in place, to facilitate the process of the reinforcement of the civic assets recovery laws.
Earlier, Hinds referred to the recent bust of a cache of weapons, which was seized by the police, at the Piarco Airport on April 22, saying T&T was battling breaches of both illegitimate and legitimate entry points.
“We have legal ports of entry…our airports, our seaports and of course based on the fact that we are an island state, we have perhaps over 200 points from illegal entry in Trinidad and Tobago and therefore, we have a problem,” said Hinds.
Meanwhile, Police Commissioner Gary Griffith disclosed with the advent of the National Operation Fusion Centre there was now greater synergy between different arms of the protective services that have made it much easier for the police to be involved in border protection. He said, together they were involved in an ongoing massive operation to ensure border security.
“Very soon there would be drones provided for the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service to assist us as the specific units would also be sent to the southwestern peninsular inclusive of MOP, SORT, and other units in the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service. So we are putting a massive operation to make sure we can lock down that southwestern peninsular,” Griffith revealed.
Relaying some statistics, Griffith said within the last three years, 213 Venezuelans were charged with serious reported crimes, while last year 533 illegal immigrants were detained in the TTPS’ southwestern division alone. And over 135 were detained so far in 2021.
Reiterating Hinds’ sentiments Griffith said, “As it pertains to security we have to secure our borders, through the illegitimate and the illegal ports of entry. Through the legal ports of entry, you would have seen what has taken place over the last few weeks. All I can state is that there are game-changers taking place, which is why we would have acquired those two hits of illegal weapons, ammunition entering the country through the legitimate ports of entry as well as drugs.”
Regarding the reestablishment of the TTPS’ Marine Branch, Griffith said, it would comprise of a three-part operation.
“We will be involved in what is known as Tier 1—we will be doing patrols along the coast from the beach to two miles out. We will now complement and work alongside the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard. From there we look at Tier 2, from two to ten miles out, and then Tier 3 can be considered the exclusive economic zone from ten miles out to 200 miles out. That is where you need larger craft,” Griffith illustrated.
He said polygraph testing was another tool being used on officers in the southwestern peninsular to ensure those police officers would be doing what is required of them and not becoming a liability in the TTPS’ operations.