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Young: No ‘get out of jail free’ card for Venezuelans, Minister contradicts Police Commissioner

National Security Minister Stuart Young appeared to contradict Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith on his stance with regards to the deportation of Venezuelans, as he suggested that police ‘suspicion’ would not be enough to expel the South American nations.

Yesterday, Griffith told a press briefing the government’s proposed registration drive of Venezuelans—which will occur between 31 May and 14 June—was a ‘get out of jail free’ card for the foreigners and insisted that the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS) be allowed to force the deportation of the visitors, based on ‘suspicion’ and ‘police intelligence’.

Photo: Minister of National Security Stuart Young (left) and Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith.
(Copyright TTPS)

Young disagreed with Griffith’s assessment and insisted that a registration card will not, of itself, help facilitate criminals.

“The registration card is not going to help anyone [who is involved in criminality],” stated Young, in a press statement today. “If a Venezuelan who registers in this country commits a crime that person will be arrested, charged, incarcerated and deported.”

Young further explained that registering Venezuelans will be ‘searched against an Interpol watch list and other intelligence that will be provided by the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service and other areas of National Security’ and would be ‘denied a reprieve, detained and deported’ if flagged.

However, neither Young nor Griffith explicitly revealed what sort of police information might lead to a Venezuelan being deported without committing a crime. The Minister’s reference to an Interpol watch list might suggest a high threshold, whereas Griffith’s claim about ‘suspicion’ being sufficient infers the opposite.

On Friday, Griffith chided the government’s plans during a media briefing at the Police Administration building.

“I am ask­ing for con­sid­er­a­tion [to] now be giv­en—[al­though a Venezuelan] may have an amnesty—if based on […] sus­pi­cion, based on in­tel­li­gence of that in­di­vid­ual be­ing in­volved in any ques­tion­able ac­tiv­i­ty and that in­di­vid­ual is red flagged, that per­son is im­me­di­ate­ly de­port­ed,” said Griffith. “I need to en­sure that per­sons of in­ter­est do not eas­i­ly find an op­por­tu­ni­ty to get in here and to be in­volved in crim­i­nal ac­tiv­i­ty. What they are ba­si­cal­ly get­ting is a get out of jail free card.

Photo: Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith (right) and soca star Machel Montano.
(Copyright TTPS)

“[…] The con­cern that the Trinidad and To­ba­go Po­lice Ser­vice have, is that over the last three weeks, three Venezue­lan na­tion­als have been killed. The re­ports have shown that these three Venezue­lan na­tion­als have been in­volved in cer­tain very ques­tion­able ac­tiv­i­ties, in­volved with very ques­tion­able crim­i­nal el­e­ments es­pe­cial­ly in the West­ern Di­vi­sion and Port-of-Spain.

“[…] The point that I am bring­ing to the at­ten­tion of the pub­lic is as much it is we are do­ing the char­i­ta­ble thing to help, my con­cern is that char­i­ty must be­gin at home.”

Young disagreed but said the TTPS’ advice will be taken on board, as part of the registration process.

“We are mindful that we don’t know who will be coming to Trinidad and Tobago and for this reason we have taken the decision to work with the police as well as our international law enforcement partners,” stated Young, “to vet those who are seeking to live and work among us.”

On Thursday, Cabinet confirmed that Venezuelans who entered Trinidad and Tobago legally and illegally will be registered between 31 May and 14 June at five centres in Port of Spain, San Fernando, Arima, Scarborough and Cedros—each with a minimum of 20 registration booths.

Once registered, the Venezuelans will be considered to have received the equivalent of a ‘Work Permit Exemption’, which will be initially valid for six months.

Photo: A Venezuelan protester drapes herself in a message that reads “There is no food.”
(Copyright CNN)

The exercise, according to the Office of the Prime Minister, will cost roughly TT$5 million and the government anticipates the registration of approximately 28,000 persons.

Young reiterated that Venezuelans who are ex-convicts and committed serious crimes, will not be granted registration status in Trinidad and Tobago. However, the government is willing to allow entry to those who might have been guilty of misdemeanours in their homeland.

Registered Venezuelans will be protected by local labour laws and cannot be paid below minimum wage while they will also benefit from free emergency medical services and immunisations at public health institutions. They will not be required to pay NIS but must contribute to PAYE once they cross the income threshold.

(Full Ministry of Communications press statement)

Minister of National Security and Communications the Honourable Stuart Young, MP, is reassuring citizens that the plan to register Venezuelans who are in Trinidad and Tobago legally and illegally is not a get out of jail card for criminals.

“The registration card is not going to help anyone (who is involved in criminality). If a Venezuelan who registers in this country commits a crime that person will be arrested, charged, incarcerated and deported.”

Young explained that Venezuelans who register will be searched against an Interpol watch list and other intelligence that will be provided by the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service and other areas of national security. He said should an applicant appear on the watch list, that person will be denied a reprieve, detained and deported.

Photo: Millions of Venezuelan refugees have left the cash-strapped nation in the past year.
(Copyright The Star)

“We are mindful that we don’t know who will be coming to Trinidad and Tobago and for this reason we have taken the decision to work with the police as well as our international law enforcement partners to vet those who are seeking to live and work among us,” said Young.

The Minister reiterated that Venezuelans who are ex-convicts and would have committed serious crimes, will not be granted registration status in Trinidad and Tobago.

The registration process, Young said, is necessary because the government is cognisant of the trying and difficult circumstances that face Venezuelans. He said in these circumstances failing to ascertain the number of Venezuelans who are here and in what numbers is not an option.

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2 comments

  1. Gary Griffith appears to conflate his role with that of the Immigration Department. The police’s primary duty is to keep the peace, or more accurately, prevent breaches of the peace. And of course, investigate such breaches to hold the perpetrator accountable.

    The role of the Immigration Department is to secure the borders of the country. If a judge decides that a person is a danger to the community, and that person is not a citizen, then, barring human rights issues, the person can be deported by the Immigration Dept, not the police.