Some immigration issues

By Reginald Dumas

 Section 8 of our Immigration Act (no. 41 of 1969, as amended) lists persons, other than citizens (and, in two cases, residents), whose entry into this country is prohibited. 

Among such persons are those “who are idiots, imbeciles, feeble-minded (and) insane”, those “afflicted with any infectious or dangerous infectious disease, (what’s the difference, I wonder?), those “convicted of” certain crimes, and those who are “prostitutes, homosexuals” and pimps. The list extends well beyond those categories, “habitual beggars or vagrants”, for instance, and “chronic alcoholics”.

Much of this is unclear to me, which is worrisome in this age of national and international insecurity. How for instance can an Immigration officer tell, merely by looking at a newly arrived person and posing one or two questions, whether that person is “insane”, or suffering from an “infectious or dangerous infectious disease”, or is a prostitute or homosexual?

Who, for immigration purposes, is an “idiot” or an “imbecile”? Is there a legal definition? How is the word “homosexual” interpreted? (“Gay’’ doesn’t appear in the legislation.) Does it include lesbians? The act doesn’t say. But the word comes from the Latin “homo”, which means “man”, and lesbians are female. Are lesbians therefore free to enter T&T while their male counterparts aren’t? Confusingly, my dictionary, usually reliable, defines “lesbian” as “a homosexual woman” and “homo” as “a homosexual man”. I give up. And I haven’t asked yet about bisexuals and the transgendered. Overall, is the LGBT community more of a threat to our society than the heterosexual? If so, in what ways?

How can you spot a “chronic alcoholic?”? Most of the alcoholics I’ve known look perfectly normal and, so to speak, “non-alcoholic” in public, and behave accordingly. And if a “habitual beggar” (again, how can you tell?) has the means to travel to T&T from another country, he/she must be doing something right in his/her trade. Entrepreneurship like that might well be thought worthy of encouragement, even emulation.

I have other questions connected with the prohibited list. The other day I read that a number of prostitutes from the Dominican Republic were seeking judicial review of some order or other made against them. But if prostitutes are on the prohibited list, how is it these Dominican women, who would therefore appear to be in the country illegally, are allowed to use our legal system to serve their purpose, which I must assume is to stay in the country? Why haven’t they been expelled without further ado? We deport Caricom Jamaicans but go easy on non-Caricom illegals? Very odd. Or is it that it’s more lucrative for some of us here to have Latin ladies around?

My puzzlement increases. Section 9 of the act lists permitted entrants: diplomats, for instance, and tourists or visitors, and students at school in T&T. Clergymen and priests are also there. But what if the clergyman/priest is a homosexual? (We’ve been discovering a lot of that in recent years, after all.) Which prevails, his profession or his predilection? How would the Immigration officer know, in any case? And if he/she did, what criteria would determine the choice of entry or refusal? May I also ask: is the word “clergymen” designed to exclude female members of the clergy? For the sake of clarity, why not simply say “members of the clergy”?

People movement from the Eastern Caribbean into T&T has been going on since at least the late 18th century, following the Cédula of Population that the Grenadian planter Roume de St Laurent received from the Spanish Crown in 1783. There are, I suspect, very few African-origin people in this country who do not have at least one eastern Caribbean ancestor.

Now, given their faltering economy and the exponentially rigid border controls in North America and Britain, Jamaicans have turned their gaze southwards and joined the eastern Caribbean migrants and the Guyanese going north, anywhere north. The Caricom heads of government didn’t expect that in 2001 when they signed the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas (RTC). In a spirit of togetherness, they “commit(ted) themselves”, in Article 45, “to the goal of free movement of their nationals within the Community”. In Article 46 they took a first step towards the achievement of that goal by according certain categories of individuals “the right to seek employment in their jurisdictions” —university graduates, media workers, etc.

To give effect to Article 46, T&T later that year adopted the Immigration (Caribbean Community Skilled Nationals) Act, which was intended “to remove the restrictions on entry into T&T of skilled nationals of qualifying (Caricom) countries.” Qualifications to satisfy the requirements of the Act are set out therein.

The Heads also undertook to “provide for movement of Community nationals into and within their jurisdictions without harassment or the imposition of impediments, including the elimination of the requirement(s) for passports (and) work permits...”  

That hasn’t happened yet. But in 2007 — more togetherness, more euphoria, insufficient reflection — they “agreed that Caricom nationals should be allowed an automatic six-month stay on arrival in another Caricom member state.” Automaticity was however modified by two elements: the nationals should not be “undesirable” or likely to become “a charge on public funds”.

It was to that 2007 decision and the RTC that the Caribbean Court of Justice paid particular attention in the recent case between Shanique Myrie and the State of Barbados. In my next article I shall look at the more salient aspects of the court’s decisions in that matter.

Part II in Monday’s newspaper

Reginald Dumas is a 

former head of the Public Service and former diplomat

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