National Security Minister Stuart Young has defending the decision to deport a group of Venezuelan women and children despite a court order requesting their return to Trinidad and Tobago (T&T).
Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, Young said the Government has always approached the issue of non-national migration with a balance that includes the humanitarian aspect.
"The Government cannot be legitimately and justifiably accused of not treating with non-national migration issues"
He noted that last year May, the Government took the humanitarian approach to provide temporary legal status to all Venezuelans in Trinidad and Tobago, whether legal or illegal, via a migrant registration process.
Young added that it was made abundantly clear that any migrant not registered by the end of the process will be deported in accordance with the country's laws.
He said following the completion of the registration process, the Government immediately announced a visa system which required Venezuelans seeking to enter the country to be in possession of a visa.
"The additional laws that apply to Venezuelans...you need a visa to enter and now our borders are closed to national and non-nationals, you can only enter if you have the permission of the minister of national security.
"Add to that now, is the overarching law which is the Immigration Act of Trinidad and Tobago. Illegal immigrants, persons who enter Trinidad and Tobago illegally, are subject to the Act."
He said as national security minister he utilised the power afforded under the Act to make a declaration that any illegal immigrant who enters Trinidad and Tobago during COVID, is immediately deemed an undesirable.
Young noted that a UNHRC registration does not provide immigration status in Trinidad and Tobago and everything that was done in full compliance with the laws of T&T.
He said that the women and children were not in possession of visas or any documents that authorised their legal entry into Trinidad and Tobago, and there was no proof or documents of who these children are or who their parents are, yet all of a sudden a court application is made requesting their return.
"All of a sudden there's an upsurge in habeas corpus applications.
"A habeas application is when you have a concern about a person and that they are being held illegally or illegitimately, and not being charged.
"Using habeas corpus applications in these instances is very dangerous. There's been no verification of who the people are. They have also been legally held...all of these people have been legally held by the State of Trinidad and Tobago to protect the population in a pandemic."
Young said the Ministry of National Security and Immigration Division have been following the laws of Trinidad and Tobago to the letter.
“We have received senior counsel advice, we're following it, we have built out the proper procedures. All of a sudden names are appearing, suggestions as to ages, and none of that verified."
He said persons who are here legally who may be the recipients of the Venezuelan migrant registration process, are not above the law, and added that these person cannot determine that they're calling for persons in Venezuela, who have no visa to come in, break the border because it's illegal to come in without approval, enter Trinidad and Tobago because they called for them.
"That's what you're hearing now. We're going to start investigations and anyone who has a Venezuelan migrant registration card and is engaged in that, you're aiding abetting in the breach of the laws of Trinidad and Tobago, and you're committing a criminal act. Your registration will be revoked and you will be deported.
"This has nothing to do with humanitarian circumstances. You're encouraging people to breach the laws of Trinidad and Tobago and we as the Government cannot sit back and allow that to happen because we're trying to protect our population, and population means all persons in Trinidad and Tobago who are here legally.
"It is the Government that decides policy. It is the Parliament that then legislates it. It is up to a court to then interpret and apply the law, not the policy that it wants and not anything else like that.
"It's not up to any one person. In a democracy it doesn't operate like that. It's not up to lawyers, it's not up to courts, it's not up to anyone to change the law according to how they feel.
“There is becoming a disturbing trend of the ignoring of Government policy on border protection and closed borders. And the Government cannot sit back and allow that to happen," Young said.
He stated that the Government will continue to apply the laws of Trinidad and Tobago, and will change policies as they need to with the governing principle being to protect the population of Trinidad and Tobago.
Human trafficking concerns
Young added that the narrative being played out may well be the facilitation of human trafficking rings taking place in T&T because everyone outside there knows what the laws are.
"Human trafficking are not limited to men, women, boy or girls. There is human trafficking of babies, small children and women. There are persons in Trinidad and Tobago who are engaged in human trafficking.
Young said he has had disturbing incidents where persons involved in law enforcement are suspected of being involved in human trafficking.
"How it is that persons who are coming in, you don't know they are coming in, arrive here illegally, come off a boat, picked up, taken straight into custody. Who it is that gets their names? Who it is that suddenly knows all of the people who were on that boat? Knows their passport numbers, knows their ages, who they related to. And all of a sudden an attorney arrives with that information.
"Think about it. They are entering illegally. No visa so they're not in our system. No permission, no authority, no approval by national security to enter. They land, they're picked up on a beach, they're taken into custody. All od a sudden a few hours later someone turns up with a list of all of the names.
"There are instances, and serious instances of human trafficking. Isn't that one possibility that the persons who are engaged in human trafficking have prepared these lists, have prepared the stories, have prepared the narrative.
He said such persons now have the ability to either anonymously tell attorneys or sometimes even retain attorneys on behalf of people.
"We have serious questions about that. How are lawyers getting instructions in those instances? Who is providing the information and the details? These people are in State custody and don't speak English, who are providing the instructions to the lawyers?
Young stated that there are human trafficking rings in T&T and the authorities are engaged in going after them.
He added that there are children ending up in T&T without their parents, which is a sure sign of human trafficking
“There is active human trafficking and that is something that we’re combatting.”
He also noted that calls from some people, particularly foreign politicians, to return the deported contingent to T&T were absurd.
"They are Venezuelan citizens, they have a right to be in Venezuela. No other politician can direct that they're taken into Trinidad and Tobago in complete breach and non-compliance of our laws."
Young also rebuffed the perception that his ministry acted hastily in deporting the illegal migrants while a court order was pending.
“Those people were returned to Venezuela waters before the matter was heard in court so there was no question of us acting against a court order.
"Nothing I've said here is outside of the laws of Trinidad and Tobago. Nothing the Ministry of National Security, through the Immigration or other arms, has done, has been in breach of the laws," Young said.