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More Than $5M Spent This Financial Year On Haitian Repatriation

Musgrove: “…We remain confident that eventually we will see more persons charged and convicted.”

The capture and repatriation of Haitian migrants who have been illegally turning up to these shores has cost the people of the Turks and Caicos Islands almost $9 million from 2021 to now, with more that $5 million already spent this financial year.

Althea Been, Permanent Secretary for Immigration and Border Services made the revelation during a news conference hosted by Minister Arlington Musgrove at the Premier’s Office on February 9.

According to Been, between the 2021 and 2022 financial year, government expended $3.6 million on detention and repatriation, which is a about $2,352 per person. She pointed out that so far, this financial year, $5.1 million has been expended to house and repatriate Haitian migrants, with a breakdown of about $2,200 per person.

Sharlene Grant-Richardson (left), Director of Immigration and two United States Homeland Security officials listen attentively as Minister Arlington Musgrove addresses the news conference.

Addressing the news conference, Minister Musgrove charged that the regular ferrying of destitute individuals from Haiti – seeking to flee arid economic conditions – was human trafficking, and the TCI will use necessary tools under the law to stamp out the practice.

“While our society is already struggling with the impact of uncontrolled migration, it is also true that every vessel that we catch represents even more cost to government as there are more people to be detained, more people to be repatriated.

Althea Been, PS for Immigration and Border Services fielding questions from reporters at the news conference.

“But there is a very human element to this horrific trade in human beings and I want us to be clear that is exactly what this is. Humans being smuggled, usually for money, across ninety miles of ocean, in dangerous vessels, very often overloaded and rarely with any safety features at all. Too many times we know that too many people have perished on this journey,” the minister said.

Referring to human smuggling a is a despicable crime, Minister Musgrove said governing has been working to stem the problem, noting that in 2022,TCIG updated its Immigration Ordinance to create a new criminal offence – Aggravated Assisting Illegal Entry.

He said the offence has taken into account these smugglers’ recklessness in gambling with people’s lives, and which he said carries a maximum sentence of 14 years imprisonment.

He said since the introduction of that offence last year, two persons so far have been charged.

“…We remain confident that eventually we will see more persons charged and convicted,” the minister asserted.

He said government has also enhanced its approach to tackling illegal workers.

“Major operations have taken place across our islands, targeting rogue employers who hire persons illegally. These operations are on-going but so far nine (of those cases) have concluded, with one employer successfully convicted of offences,” Minister Musgrove reiterated, adding that his administration would not let up on such operations because it is a big pull factor for illegal migration.

Minister Musgrove revealed that far this 2022/2023 financial year alone, 2,355 migrants Haitian Migrants were caught trying to enter the Turks and Caicos Islands illegally, compared to 1,555 in 2021/22.

“This is a 52% increased and represents 5% of our population – who would all be living here illegally in our communities had we not caught them. Since Christmas alone, we have stopped 851 migrants from entering and disappearing into the Turks and Caicos Islands communities, and while many of us were enjoying time with our family and friends over the Christmas and New Year periods, our immigration, customs, police and Regiment officers were working on our behalf to stop a series of boats headed our way,” Minister Musgrove continued.

Conceding that the challenge around border security was not a one-agency, the minister stated that several agencies have been working as one team, to address the issue.

He said the significant increase in migrant vessels coming from Haiti over the last twelve months was not unique to the Turks and Caicos Islands, as the Bahamas and the United States - two countries with whom the TCI was closely working – including as part of the OpBat Alliance – have also been experiencing similar trends.

“We have been, and continue to be, successful at intercepting large sloops, and we also remain successful – and fast – at processing and repatriating those who come here illegally. But we know that we cannot continue to expect to intercept and repatriate our way out of this problem. We need to dig deeper, and we need to target those organizing this abhorrent human trade. Targeting the organizers will give us a far better chance at disrupting and dismantling this transnational criminality,” Minister Musgrove reasoned.

He told the News Conference that government has amended the ordinance dealing with assisting illegal entry, an offence which now carries up to seven years imprisonment.

“Since those changes, four persons were charged and found guilty, and sentences ranged from six months imprison with deportation recommended, to 36 months imprison with deportation recommended,” he stated.

He pointed out that over the 2022/2023 financial year the Immigration Taskforce, with the support of other agencies, made 14 arrests of persons harboring undocumented migrants.

He revealed that TCIG since 2023, has extended its relationships with its US counterparts, to tackle the longstanding issue.

“Under ‘Operation Expanded Impact’, the US Department of Homeland Security, the Homeland Security Investigations team – ‘HSI’ for short – has a rolling secondment of a Special Agent here in Turks and Caicos Islands.

This Special Agent is embedded in our Immigration and Customs Team and works alongside our own TCI officers, to bring the wealth of US investigation capabilities to our investigations here in TCI,” Minister Musgrove noted.

He added: “Sticking with our enhanced US relationships, December 2022 saw the first deployment of Operation Alliance. This is a TCI-led operation – our own officers leading, on TCI soil – a joint team of TCI officers and US Special Agents, to investigate every migrant vessel arrival as they occur, to capture and process every intelligence opportunity and to work to progress to criminal charges.

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