Caricom nationals should comply with immigration rules or could find themselves in problems

Dear Editor,

This is in reference to ‘T&T PM stands firm on decision to deport 13 Jamaicans’ (SN, Nov 27) as well as related news items (Nov 21, 22, etc) on the issue. I spent several days in Jamaica interacting with Jamaicans on the issue. I also sounded out my Jamaican colleagues at the workplace in New York as well as engaged Trinis on the issue.  As a reminder, the issue stems from T&T Immigration detaining and deporting 13 Jamaicans based on what they said were failed attempts to contact local hosts of those Jamaicans, conflicting information from the Jamaicans and their hosts, insufficient funds for the Jamaicans to support their stay, the presence of thousands of Jamaican illegals (some 17,200), and other reasons.

The act by T&T immigration led to calls in Jamaica for T&T products to be the subject of a boycott. I queried Jamaicans on the act of the TT Immigration and what should be the Jamaican government response. Trinis in NY and in Trinidad, almost in unison, back the action of Immigration. The Jamaicans in the home country and in NY take the opposite position displaying anger at what happened to their nationals, describing the TT action as illegal since it is in violation of the Caricom treaty on travel. Many Jamaicans view Trinis as arrogant (because of their energy wealth) and even brought up unrelated issues like Trinidad acquiring Air Jamaica, selling gas, reggae versus calypso soca, etc. Jamaicans told me that Trinis don’t like them, even when studying at Mona, although without offering any evidence. The overwhelming opinion (as I analyzed is based mostly on emotion rather than facts) is against Trinidad, although some respondents felt that Jamaican nationals should conform to the immigration requirements regarding entry and exit in Caricom. Some respondents described the deported Jamaicans as foolish for going to a country and not knowing the address where they will stay and not having enough funds for their visit for the period of time as stated on the immigration document.  Some Jamaicans felt the term ‘deport’ should not be used to describe the action taken by Trinidad Immigration but rather ‘sent back home’ for failing to comply with immigration requirements.

I have travelled to dozens of countries. It is standard procedure to provide a verifiable place of stay in order to gain entry into a country, including to the US even by OECS nationals. An English couple told me last August on a visit to their home in London that the Immigration officer at JFK was going to put them back on a flight to London because they could not find the address or phone number of their host.  The woman said after a thorough search of her bag, she found the address and they were allowed entry with the officer telling her, “you are lucky as I was getting ready to call in the British Airways agent to send you back to London.”

The deportation of the Jamaicans reminds me of the hundreds, if not thousands, of Guyanese who were deported from Trinidad during the 1980s and 1990s.  Like the Jamaicans, the Guyanese were deported because they did not have enough funds to support their stay or lacked an address, or their hosts did not show up at Piarco, or some other reason. I, myself, was subjected to detailed questioning by Immigration when I visited several times during the 1980s.  I was also subjected to detailed questioning in Barbados, Antigua, and Grenada and even once in Jamaica (out of over a dozen visits) because of my Guyanese passport and ability to financially sustain my stay.

I know of Guyanese who now reside in the US who were deported and or subjected to secondary questioning in Trinidad.  It was a humiliating experience to be instructed to sit on some bench (and it is not private as at US airports) where people with immigration issues are normally sent. It was an unpleasant experience Guyanese would like to forget ‒ and talk about. Guyanese had horrible experiences in Trinidad during the 1980s and their ill treatment was raised in parliament by Basdeo Panday, Trevor Sudama, Kelvin Ramnath, etc. Around 2002, Guyanese activist Vishnu Mahadeo, then associated with Universal Airlines, was pulled aside and sent to a private room (even though he had a US passport) because he loudly questioned the ill treatment of Guyanese passing through Piarco. I stormed into the supervisor’s office demanding an explanation and that he be allowed in.  The supervisor, who knew me from my polling work, told me not to worry that Mahadeo would be allowed in.  A few minutes later, Mahadeo was with me.

I visited Trinidad at least one hundred times and sometimes I was asked to join the infamous bench by arrogant officers and I always refused, standing my ground and requested to see the supervisor of Immigration who quickly overruled lower officers. I could get away with challenging an officer because of the familiarity of my name that appeared frequently in the media (through NACTA polls and my newspaper commentaries) and because it is known I won’t be a burden on the state. But others are not so lucky.

Immigration is a sensitive issue and officers need to be careful to follow the rules and regulations of the Caricom protocol and use common sense. Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar responded sensibly to send her Foreign Minister to Kingston to address the matter to avoid any fall-out. As an editorial in Trinidad, stated, T&T immigration laws and applicable Caricom arrangements must be seen to be enforced without discrimination against any would-be entrants into the country. Caricom nationals are advised they should comply with immigration rules or they could find themselves in problems.


Yours faithfully,

Vishnu Bisram

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