A High Court judge has dismissed an application by a 17-year-old – whose TT-born father has been deemed a terrorist by both the United States and Trinidad and Tobago – to be allowed into TT to visit his mother.
On Friday, Justice Ricky Rahim dismissed an application to have the court review a decision by the immigration department to issue a rejection notice without a special inquiry. Attorneys for the teen also sought an interim application to compel the chief immigration officer to hold the inquiry.
The rejection notice was ordered after the teenager was detained at Piarco International Airport over the weekend. His father and a brother are incarcerated in the US for terrorism offences.
The US family court had given the teenager permission to visit his mother for two months.
Rahim said the teen had the opportunity to let the immigration officer know he wanted to challenge the rejection notice, since the procedure is set out on the order. He said if he had done so, it would have led to the special inquiry he wanted, and also given him an opportunity to provide further proof he was entitled to enter the country.
Rejecting an argument that the teen was not told he could “appeal” the rejection order, the judge said he was accompanied by an adult – a social worker from the US – whose duty it was to assist him.
Immigration officials also detained the social worker . It has been telegraphed to the judge that the teen and the social worker want to return to the US.
In his ruling, Rahim said it was in the teen’s interest that the “process of return not be unreasonably delayed so that the trauma of the event may be brought to an end sooner (rather) than later.”
He also suggested the immigration division allow the teen a supervised visit with his mother before he leaves TT.
Rahim said the teenager had not successfully argued he was a citizen of TT by descent.
He also referred to the teen’s travel to Syria at the age of seven and the “not so subtle inference that he is also trained in or participated in warfare and terrorism.”
But Rahim said this had no bearing on the denial of entry.
“As far as the court is concerned, the relevance of the information lies more...with the hardship and indescribable long-lasting trauma that the minor must have endured having been plucked from normal living at the age of seven and placed in a country ravaged by a war in which he may have been made to participate.”
He said the teen was a victim.
“In fact, the presence of so many representatives of agencies of the US on the court link all with the best interest of the minor as their priority speaks volumes to the level of attention and care that he appears to be benefitting from in the US.”
Information had been presented by a police officer with the Special Branch’s terrorism interdiction unit, received from foreign intelligence service, that the teenager is the son of an ISIS fighter deemed a terrorist in the US and TT.
The court was told the teen travelled to Syria with his father and siblings in 2015, aged seven, and when the father and an older brother were captured in 2019, they were returned to the US, where the latter two were convicted and jailed.
The teenager was put in foster care and his mother was deported to TT.
Contacted on Friday by phone, the boy’s mother declined to speak about her son’s rejection.
On Monday, Rahim is expected to rule on the issue of costs and a separate application filed by the State for a wasted-cost order.
This means the teen’s attorneys may find themselves having to pay the State’s costs personally. But they will be given seven days' notice to say why such an order should not be made.
The teenager was represented by attorneys Criston J Williams and Celeste Jules. The chief immigration officer was represented by attorneys Gregory Delzin, Domonique Bernard and Jinai Chong Sing.
Delzin said the court's jurisdiction was invoked on a frivolous basis, there was non-adherence to court orders, affidavits were filed without permission in an attempt to "steal a march" and the law on judicial review was disregarded.
He also said this caused the teen to be detained for much longer, possibly causing him anguish, when there was an alternative remedy which could have led to the special inquiry being completed in a day. Delzin urged the court to send a message to attorneys that judicial review should not be the first port of call.