Chamber of Commerce writes: Undocumented persons: illegal is illegal (or is it?)

POSTED: 10/23/15 1:23 PM

Proudly we take note of the news reports that the Immigration Department of St. Maarten conducted successful raids, rounding up undocumented persons for a one-way trip back to their home country. With the Immigration officers many people remark how they (the undocumented persons) scattered, and tried to escape jumping out of busses, climbing fences, doing anything in their power not to get arrested.

That the Immigration Department is doing their job we are pleased with, but at no time should we dismiss the fear with which these people live daily, and take pleasure herein. This is no laughing matter for most of these people caught on their way to work or at their place of work even in their place of worship, who place themselves in harms-way trying to get away from the Immigration/or Police. Some have gotten injured and even lost their lives in this process.

Illegal is illegal one would say and this is what you get when you are living in a place without documents. The question is however: “Can we just place all undocumented persons in one category and remove them without any consideration for their personal circumstance?”

First we must take into consideration that some people became undocumented because they were duped by employers and agencies who took their documents and money and never filed the permit requests, or simply because there was a time when our immigration system was not functioning all that well. There were days when permits were requested, but the persons not notified that the permits could be picked up, so those permits expired and re-filing was done too late causing a gap between permits in which the person became illegal. The Immigration then following the law would deny any further permits on the basis that they were illegal on the Island, they had to be off-Island to reapply for a permit and since they may have failed to do so their illegal status would continue into perpetuity.

A second consideration is that in other cases the at random application of requirements, when considering permit applications, would result in permit rejections, followed by many court procedures at a hefty cost. During this battle the gripping fear of being caught and deported would remain with this person, rightfully fighting to reclaim a legal status in this country. Is it not illegal in these circumstances, to rigidly apply the law and ignore the humanitarian principles part of that law as well, when previously through the improper application of that law persons were forced into an undocumented status?

Yes there are many persons undocumented with circumstances warranting an immediate removal, however one cannot maintain that those who were forced into an illegal status should be removed in the same manner. There are undocumented persons in St. Maarten who have contributed towards our economy and development for decades, who have become undocumented because something simply went wrong with the application process. Do we maintain illegal is illegal and deportation is in order? Do we consider their circumstance and determine their status based on actual facts and treat them in a more humane manner than is commonly done? Yes, the Immigration needs to conduct raids, but isn’t the easiest route chosen? Raiding workplaces, churches and busses early in the morning when people are on their way to work, is the easy way out.

Raids should not solely focus on these places and these easy targets. Raids should be conducted in those places where persons gather who evidently have no other occupation than to consume alcohol, cause a nuisance and maybe even participate in committing crimes. If one would consider that most of the undocumented working persons are simply too tired to go out at night and conduct themselves in a non-productive manner, then it is another group of undocumented persons who potentially venture out at night, when raids are not done.

Another consideration is that no employer should have employed an undocumented worker, and the law permits hefty fines on the employer. Is there then not another way to deal with the undocumented persons who are found at work/or on their way to work? Should we not have a more humane approach towards these persons who evidently, whether we want to admit it or not, serve our economy? Do they always take in the jobs that should be reserved for our local labor force? No, often they fill jobs our local labor force is not interested in.

We can all agree that the definition of illegal is clear and fits all categories of persons irrespective of the way they acquired this status. We must in that same breath also agree that our approach to remove undocumented persons must be adjusted and customized to correct previous errors made, to consider personal circumstances and to acknowledge the contribution many have made to the country. A large segment of our economy is still dependent on the labor of an undocumented workforce, so we must address this matter in a proper way once and for all. These persons have families and work hard to maintain their families, who face the risk of deportation daily just wanting to provide for their families, they are not pariahs to be extracted from society.

Recommendations are as follows: Provision that the undocumented persons who have been and are contributing towards the development of the country (for many years) become documented or arrange for their departure in a humane way. A more civil approach through the employer can be undertaken, for those who are employed. Utilize raids as a method intended to extract undocumented persons who in no form or fashion contribute positively towards our economy. Develop methods to remove undocumented persons from society who are unnecessarily occupying employment spots that can be filled through our local labor market. Unemployment in St. Maarten should at no time be caused or driven by undocumented persons flooding a job market. Continue training of Immigration staff for faster and better processing of permit applications, and put those checks and balances in place that prevent random application of rules and regulations (all resulting in litigation at a cost for the country). Consult with employers who through the years have not been able to get local workers for their operations, (due to non-interest within the local labor force) and have so become dependent on a foreign workforce to maintain operations in support of our economy.

The Chamber of Commerce and Industry St. Maarten (COCI) supports proper economic development and recognizes that there are many factors that positively or negatively affect such development, and will in subsequent articles highlight all such effects on our economy.

COCI is however of the opinion that a proper multiple pronged approach needs to be developed to address our immigration woes. There is no easy way out and no easy road should be taken.

The Board of Directors of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry

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