Gov’t silent on US border wall funding proposal

While state officials across the Caribbean have sought to reassure their citizenry that they are at least considering the possible impact of the proposed Border Wall Funding law in the United States, which would tax remittances to several countries in the Caribbean and South America, including Guyana, the government here has been silent.

The bill, HR 1813, was introduced to the United States House of Representatives by Republican Congressman Mike Rogers, of Alabama, and seeks to amend the Electronic Fund Transfer Act so as to impose a 2% fee on all remittances headed south of the US border.

In his introduction of the bill on March 30, 2017, Rogers claimed that remittances, or wire transfers, are commonly used by illegal immigrants to move money from the US to their home countries.

“In 2014, Mexico alone received over $24 billion in remittances sent from the US, while other South and Central American countries received over 15% of their GDPs in the form of remittances,” he reportedly told the house.

Mike Rogers

Stabroek News reported two weeks ago that the bill was introduced and has been referred to the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations and the Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security.

Since that time numerous efforts have been made to seek a response from Guyana’s representative in Washington DC, Ambassador Riyad Insanally, all of which have proved futile.

In an April 27 email to his official embassy address, Insanally was asked if his office was aware of the proposed legislation and had compiled an analysis of its possible impact on Guyana’s economy. He was also asked if this analysis or any other information in relation to the bill was communicated to Minister of Foreign Affairs Carl Greenidge.

Stabroek News also sought to ascertain whether any plans existed for Guyana to work through the Caricom or the Organization of American States (OAS) blocs to lobby in congress against this bill.

While confirmation of receipt from the Embassy secretariat was received and the ambassador’s office contacted the newspaper’s editorial department within days of the email to ascertain its veracity, no answers have been forthcoming.

In contrast, the Jamaica Gleaner has reported that the Jamaican government has indicated that it is keeping a close eye on the draft bill.

An April 28 report, headlined “Jamaica Keenly Monitoring US Border Wall Funding Proposal,” references a statement in which their Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade said that it was fully aware of the situation.

Portfolio minister Senator Kamina Johnson Smith is quoted as saying that “hundreds of drafts bills are introduced by congressional representatives every year, but many of them fail to make it through the extensive legislative process,” even as she noted that Jamaica is prepared to work with CARICOM in a coordinated approach.

Antigua’s Foreign Affairs Minister Charles Fernandez has also told state media in that Island that Caricom countries will, along with countries in Latin America, speak with one voice in opposing the proposed bill.

He expressed the fear that if passed the new measures could result in the remittances system going underground.

The Barbadian Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler has also, according to the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation, advocated for a regional response to the measure.

Former Jamaican Ambassador to the United Nations Curtis Ward, in an Op-Ed for the Antiguan Tribune, urged US lawmakers to remember that remittances are not faceless or the result solely of illegal immigration. He argued instead that “hundreds of thousands of members of the immigrant community who send remittances are U.S. permanent residents and citizens who already pay taxes…. It is immoral to propose a tax on life-saving financial support; on life-sustaining support sent by a son or daughter to his or her elderly parent or grandparent.”

If enacted, the bill, which is expected to have a five-year life span, would empower a remittance transfer provider to collect the fee if the designated recipient of a remittance transfer is located in any of the named countries. The fee is to be equal to 2% of the US dollar amount to be transferred (excluding any fees or other charges imposed by the remittance transfer provider).

It would also provide for the remittance transfer provider to retain up to 5% of the fees to cover the costs of collecting and submitting such remittance fees to the Treasury to be expended for the purpose of improving border security.

It recommends stiff penalties for any failure to comply with its provisions, including fines and imprisonment.

Additionally, it proposes that any country that, in the joint determination of the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Secretary of the Treasury, and the Secretary of State aids or harbours an individual conspiring to avoid the fee collected shall be ineligible to receive foreign assistance and to participate in the visa waiver programme or any other programmes, at the discretion of the Secretaries.

Throughout his presidential campaign, US President Donald Trump called for the construction of a much larger and fortified wall, which estimates state will cost anywhere from $21.6 billion to $70 billion. Trump had maintained that Mexico would fund its construction but the Mexican government has vehemently rejected this position.

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