Illegal Immigration, a real threat without real solutions in Turks and Caicos Islands

By Ed Forbes

Immigration reform is perhaps the most complex policy to enact, let alone enforce, without stepping on individuals’ human rights or angering a certain group of people.

I realize there is an undercurrent of tension right now as it relates to this delicate topic, but it’s important to discuss. This is why, in my opinion, no one has the perfect solution or answers; not even major developed countries.

Nevertheless, elected politicians have an obligation and a duty to come up with a comprehensive approach and viable solutions in the best interest of our country.

The impact of the current pandemic has made it even more of a nightmare for many countries around the world. As a result, many people are suffering and in dire straits of basic needs.

It is my belief that if this prolongs without intervention, it could force neighboring countries such as Haiti and the Dominican Republic into an unstable equilibrium as it relates to migration control.

Given the close proximity of the aforementioned countries to our shores, we could expect an increase in migration, which we know all too well, is a continued challenge for us.

Political pundits were taken back when the former premier stated that she cannot stop the illegal Haitian sloops from coming. Although, not politically correct, it’s the fact. Which political party or countries have shown they can?

Persons migrate to certain countries because of various reasons: be it an economic situation, human rights abuse, government stability, living conditions, etc.

Governments cannot control all population flow, and as concerned citizens, we also have a role to play in stemming the flow of illegal immigration.

For decades our country has dealt with illegal immigration, primarily Haitian and Dominican nationals and there seems to be no real solutions or end in sight.

Recently, many other nationalities are seizing on the opportunities and taking advantage of the loopholes in our immigration system and porous borders.

I’m inclined to believe we literally have thousands of undocumented immigrants living in our country under the shadows, be it from undetected illegal boats coming ashore or persons who have overstayed their visas. The recent voting records and estimated census is indicative of that.

What we need is zero tolerance for illegal immigration. Although we are advocates for human rights, our country has a rule of law that must be adhered to.

In a small country like TCI, unchecked immigration could threaten the very fabric of our society in terms of our culture, the burden on our existing welfare system, etc.

In order to properly enforce our current laws and bring about real change, the government will need to have better checks and balances in place, such as:

* a better tracking system for overstayed visas under the “Operation Guardian programme”.

* Imposing hefty fines for hiring illegals or aiding and abetting illegal entry.

* Housing enforcement of make shift shacks erected on vacant properties, be it government or private.

* Investing heavily in border control and protecting our sovereign water ways.

* Increasing unannounced worksite immigration inspections, etc.

It’s sad to say, but given the declining rate of our indigenous population and the construction boom over the years, the country cannot continue to thrive and survive without foreign workers.

The reality is, our country does not have sufficient labor force to meet the construction demands and the growing need for workers in the service industry.

The question is, at what point are we willing to accept this reality? I also believe there is a broader appetite by the public for the government to make some necessary amendments to our current immigration policies.

It’s evident, the British government who is ultimately responsible for our external security, is only spoon feeding us when we cry out.

In my opinion, the road we are currently on, is putting us in a very precarious position which will be difficult to rebound.

With that being said, I would like to present to the government the below two options to ponder.

The first option: Let’s put the pressure on the British government to station a coastguard ship in our waters on a semi-permanent basis to help deal with illegal immigration.

With our limited marine resources, why are we processing hundreds of illegal migrants on our shores? Our system was not designed to house and support such levels of immigration.

The cost of repatriation is draining our already strapped fiscal budget, which in turn creates other shortfalls.

The second option: Consider passing an amnesty bill with a path to citizenship for those without criminal records who can prove they have entered the country prior to a certain date.

For eligibility, such persons would have to provide some form of legal documentation, work history, passport and credible references.

Obviously, this will need to be a well thought out process and will require some kind of “think tank” committee to get it started. It will also need to include our census bureau embarking on a countrywide effort for a more accurate headcount.

By doing this, it could accomplish a number of things. For one, it will decrease what I would characterize as the “slave labor pool” in our country and also allow those who were once illegal to pay into our NHIP, NHIB system rather than draining it at our own expense.

The bottom line is, we can’t continue to operate the same way and expect different results.

As we have seen over the years, even though many of these voyages could be very treacherous, these migrants are undeterred by the seemingly odds of dying to get here.

Therefore, it is futile to just sit back, complain and think it will magically go away. Because, at the end of the day, they are here, living and working among us for years undetected. Something unprecedented has to be done.

Illegal immigration is a matter that should concern all of us. Whether or not we choose to confront the problem, put a band-aid on it or just look the other way, it’s definitely something we need to tackle head on.

* Ed is a native Turks and Caicos Islander, who spent 30 plus years studying and working in the USA. He holds an Associate degree in Criminal Justice and an Honorary degree in Criminology along with various legal and professional certifications in crime prevention and journalism. Ed resides in Grand Turk and is the co-founder and operator of Exclusive Escapes Tours.

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