WITH THE announcement by Minister of National Security Stuart Young of a plan to provide amnesty for illegal Venezuelan immigrants, this country has finally found its soul in relation to the thorny issue of how to treat with the plight of our closest neighbours.
Cabinet must move swiftly to approve and implement this policy, which has the potential not only to demonstrate our compassion but to also protect our interests in the long-run by providing much-needed data.
“I want to know who is in TT and the only way to do that is to grant an amnesty,” explained Young on Tuesday. “If you are here illegally, we will be asking you to come and register yourself.”
Young explained there will be a registration process and Venezuelans will be issued with identification documents. They will start over with a clean slate and be authorised to work for a year. “We are not going to hold you and take you to a detention centre,” the Minister assured.
This is a notable change of tone especially coming in the context of a country which stands accused of failing to implement any substantial reform regarding refugees.
That said, the plan to grant an amnesty echoes a similar initiative announced in 2014 by then Minister of National Security Gary Griffith. Back then, Griffith disclosed a one-month window within which illegal immigrants were asked to come forward and have their status regularised.
Exactly how long the fresh amnesty will last has not been specified, but it must be far wider than the time-frame of the 2014 initiative. And we should learn any lessons we can from the previous initiative.
Still, Young’s announcement is a relief given the fear-mongering which has been escalating in recent months. We welcome the minister’s clarification that registration will not involve the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC), a clarification that was made necessary given the concerns raised by Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar over whether Venezuelans will vote.
While the EBC as an organisation always has room for improvement, we find the Opposition Leader’s concerns to be without merit given the clear checks and balances in place to ensure only citizens of this country are allowed to vote. If Venezuelans seek and satisfy criteria for citizenship, then they are entitled to do so, and casting aspersions on such individuals simply becomes xenophobia in the extreme. There is already too much of that.
Venezuelans, who over the weekend were denied basic humanitarian aid by the military, already have to contend with so much. Perhaps now, this country will be in a position to grant basic assistance as a prelude to deeper reforms.