The question of who should foot the bill for the deportation of foreign nationals stranded here should be resolved not by questions of cost but by this country’s international treaty obligations and its respect for human rights.
According to a Sunday Newsday investigation of the conditions at the Aripo Detention Centre, several foreign nationals who have completed custodial sentences for entering this country illegally or overstaying their time, are stuck because neither this country nor their own wants to pay deportation costs.
While those costs are high, the cost of housing individuals stranded here is probably just as exorbitant.
According to estimates given by successive Cabinet ministers, the cost of housing an inmate in the penal system is between $10,000 to $25,000 per month or $120,000 to $300,000 per year. While these are not specific costs for the Aripo Detention Centre, it is clear that incarceration there will be comparable. The State may balk at deportation costs but the price may be higher if this limbo is allowed to persist.
But there is a more fundamental price which this nation should not be in a position to pay.
Housing foreign nationals who have already served time for immigration offences amounts to double jeopardy. Imposed without any due process, it is a form of extra-judicial punishment that violates the dignity of the human person. No one should be subject to a de facto prison sentence in the absence of a legal basis.
We would not want our own nationals to be treated thus.
While there may be no clear legal provision dealing with these cases, current laws provide guidance in spirit, if not in letter.
The Immigration Act has a careful framework in place when it comes to the matter of deportation. Part III of this act makes it clear that it is for the company that has transported a detainee into the country to pay the cost of deportation. Such an entity, when executing a deportation, must by section 34 (c), “treat in a humane manner” the deportee. The idea is to have certainty and to uphold the most basic standards of human decency, notwithstanding the fact that we are dealing with deportees.
Even our extradition laws make no reference to the cost of extradition. Perhaps all persons who have already gone through legal processes should be treated like persons who fall under section 22 of the Extradition Act which stipulates the State should pay for the return of an acquitted individual.
All of this cries out for a comprehensive revamp of our immigration laws and a specialist agency for immigration, deportation and extradition, dedicated to efficient yet humane implementation of law and policy