New T&T Top Cop had grossly inflated figures of undocumented immigrants, blamed them for crime rate

Dear Editor,

Please permit me some space in your publication. I am apprehensive about inserting myself in the state affairs of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago and I also wouldn’t wish to insert myself in a delicate selection process as the one surrounding the country’s Police Commissioner, which recently concluded.

I am reverent to this process belonging to the people of Trinidad and Tobago through their Parliament. At the same time, I must express how disappointed and concerned I am at Gary Griffith’s appointment as Police Commissioner.

As an immigrant who studied on the island, I recall this is the same Gary Griffith who, while being National Security Minister in 2014, opened the floodgates for the mass pursuit of immigrants when he grossly inflated the figures of undocumented immigrants living in the twin-island republic and cast much of the blame for the country’s crime rate and economic situation on immigrants from Guyana, Jamaica, and Nigeria.

This is the same Gary Griffith that had the University of the West Indies scrambling in 2014 to make sure non-national students’ documentation was in order because the hunt was on and no immigrant seemed safe.

One bold red headline plastered as the lead story across the Trinidad and Tobago Newsday newspaper screamed “ARE YOU ILLEGAL?” as it went on to report Griffith mustering up a multi-agency effort to “weed out” what he quoted as 110,000 “illegal” immigrants living in the country.

That figure was later revealed as being incorrect by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs which revealed that based on the country’s population of 1.3 million in 2015, international migrants were numbered at 3.7% of the total population or approximately 50,000 persons. This information is found in the UN-DESA 2015 report on the International Migrant Stock with country data based on figures from 1990, 1995, 2000, 2005, 2010, and 2015.

In all those years identified above, Trinidad and Tobago’s migrant population as a percentage of their total population has been recorded respectively as 4.1% in 1990, 3.7% in 1995, 3.3% in 2000, 3.5% in 2005, 3.6% in 2010, and 3.7% in 2015.

Griffith’s figure of 110,000 undocumented immigrants would’ve meant that this category alone accounted for close to 10% of Trinidad and Tobago’s overall population.

Even after Griffith had left office, he continued his rantings as he was quoted in the Jamaica Observer online in April 2016 citing some 20,000 undocumented Jamaicans living in Trinidad and Tobago whom he said were exploiting the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME) by abusing the six-months stay arrangement and ultimately overstaying thus becoming a burden on the state. It remains to be seen where Griffith found his figures.

But these numbers aside, one must consider the real-world implications of such dangerous utterings and what it means for the perception of non-nationals in the eyes of nationals and how that could create distrust and further strain relations between those who “belong” and those non-nationals who are scapegoats for high crime rates and a declining economy. 

One must also consider how such dangerous misleading contentions from a person in authority exacerbate stereotypes and xenophobia, and further how it made the country unsafe for non-nationals who continue to contribute to the economy and the social and political systems as we have done from the very birth of the nation. 

Furthermore, the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian reported in June 2017 a more modest figure of undocumented immigrants quoted by then-acting National Security Minister Dennis Moses in the Trinidad and Tobago Parliament where he noted there were 15,042 undocumented immigrants in Trinidad and Tobago between January 1 and May 1, 2017. A breakdown of the numbers by Moses tells an entirely different story which departs from Griffith’s rantings.

Editor, it is a crying shame that it requires all this effort to track down and quote statistics and research after one man in a position of authority grossly misleads an entire nation and compromises diplomatic relations between CARICOM countries.

But there a few things I’ve come to accept in the era of Trump. Not only do we continue to reward bad behaviour, but we also continue to give authority to those who are misbehaved and give further legitimacy to their wrongdoings.

Yours faithfully,

Derwayne Wills

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