T&T deportation undermines integration

The New York-based Caribbean Guyana Institute for Democracy (CGID) condemns the Nov. 19 deportation of 13 Jamaican nationals from Trinidad & Tobago. We also strongly denounce Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s explanation of this action as being “compliant with the law.” CGID wishes to ask of what law does the prime minister speak?

The Jamaicans alleged that T&T Immigration officers informed them that entry was denied because of the recent murder of Trinidadian Keron Fraser in Jamaica. They said that they were mistreated while in detention, and deported the following day. T&T Immigration service claimed that their expulsion was either because no one met them at the airport or that they presented no evidence of funds to support their stay.

The unjust deportation of CARICOM nationals constitutes reprehensible violations of Articles 45 and 46 of the Revised Treaty of Chaguramas (RTC) as well as the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME). They also especially flout settled law established by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) in its landmark Shanique Myrie v State of Barbados ruling.

While the court affirmed a Member State’s right to deny a CARICOM national entry, it likewise concurrently affirmed a CARICOM national’s right to be granted entry into a member State, provided the following two limited exceptions: (i) If the national would become “a charge on public funds” and (ii) If the national presents a threat to “public morals, the maintenance of public order and safety and the protection of life and health.”

The CCJ placed the burden of proof to establish a sufficiency of grounds to invoke either exception on the refusing state, not the national. They also conferred jurisdiction to interpret the scope and right to exercise such exceptions on the CARICOM Heads Conference or designated organ, and ultimately the CCJ itself as the guardian of the RTC.

The actions of the T&T Immigration are therefore opprobrious violations of the law. Suffice it to say, Mrs. Persad-Bissessar’s assertion that the actions of T&T Immigration were lawful because the CCJ ruling gives immigration officers discretion to determine undesirability, is atrociously uninformed as the said ruling imposed strict restrictions on the exercise of such discretion. The prime minister’s comments therefore engender division among nations and dangerously undermine regional integration.

National Security Minister Gary Griffith told the Guardian newspaper that one person was deported because she claimed she brought her child to visit the father but the father never showed up at the airport. Another, he said, only possessed US$250 to support their stay. He affirmed that his government would not admit “people who did not have a clear way of supporting themselves or did not have individuals to assist them on entry.” He said this could lead to unemployment.

This is an appalling level of insularity. T&T Immigration at no time established that the thirteen Jamaicans presented a threat to “public morals, national security, safety and national health” or would be “a charge on public funds.” Any belated assertion of this nature strains credulity.

Furthermore, the requirements for entry delineated by Mr. Griffith are exceedingly arbitrary, subjective and contrary to the law. They are a flagrant violation of Articles 45 and 46 of the RTC. Would the T&T government countenance the arbitrary imposition of such “wishy-washy” criterions on Trinidadians by other CARICOM States?

The CCJ in the instant ruling expressly held that the mere assertion by the refusing State of a national’s inability to identify a legitimate host, or failure to be greeted at the airport, is in and of itself insufficient grounds to justify refusal of entry. Moreover, the ruling reaffirmed the supremacy of regional law whenever there is a conflict between national and regional laws.

Article 45 of the RTC states that “Member States commit themselves to the goal of free movement of their nationals within the Community.” Article 46. 2. States that “Member States shall establish appropriate legislative, administrative and procedural arrangements to: (a) facilitate the movement of skills within the contemplation of this Article; (b) provide for movement of Community nationals into and within their jurisdictions without harassment or the imposition of impediments, including: (i) the elimination of the requirement for passports …work permits…” Can this vision ever be achieved?

These violations by the T&T government demonstrate the urgent need for Caricom to establish uniform regulations and modalities for entry and stay in member States. The RTC must also be amended to mandate that States must, within a specific time-frame of enactment, harmonize their national laws to comport with regional law.

Regional integration cannot be attained in the face of protectionist, insular public policy by individual States. Deeper integration will derive from altruistic, harmonized policies that propel the “region as a whole” towards greater cohesiveness and development.

CGID reiterates its call for all Caricom member States to amend their laws to recognize the CCJ as the court of ultimate appellate jurisdiction. It is preposterous that the CCJ is based in T&T but that country refuses to amend it constitution to recognize the court as its ultimate court of appeal.

The author is president of the CGID

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