THE FATE of over three dozen Venezuelans held at the heliport in Chaguaramas, hung in the balance Wednesday evening, after attorneys for the National Security Minister appealed a judge's ruling a day earlier which barred any immediate deportation pending the outcome of the migrants' judicial review hearing.
If the appeal of Minister Fitzgerald Hinds is upheld, the 30-plus migrants at the heliport could be placed on a National Security vessel as early as Thursday and sent back to Venezuela.
Hours after Justice Ricky Rahim ordered the immediate release of the 64 Venezuelans on Tuesday, as he temporarily gave them a reprieve against immediate deportation, Hinds' attorneys swiftly moved to appeal the decision.
So swift was the move that immigration officers detailed to process the migrants' documents on Tuesday evening prior to their release from the heliport – after Justice Rahim's ruling – were stopped and told to leave the compound, with over 30 migrants still to be processed.
An earlier batch of migrants who were processed, tasted freedom and were met by joyous relatives outside the heliport. Immigration sources said once Hinds' appeal is granted, these 30 freed migrants will face immediate deportation – if and when the authorities catch up with them.
In an urgent appeal, attorneys for the minister contended that the deportation of the group can be done on Thursday, as they remained locked in hearings late yesterday before Justice of Appeal Prakash Moosai, seeking a stay of Justice Rahim’s orders.
On Tuesday, Rahim restrained the minister from enforcing the deportation orders for the 64, pending the determination of their judicial review claim which he permitted them to file.
He also ordered the minister to release the 64 on orders of supervision, or conditional release, pending the determination of their lawsuit. However, he made it clear the deportation orders for the 64 remain valid unless set aside by the court or revoked by the minister.
The 64 were among a group of almost 200 people held by police on July 9 at the Apex Bar in St James.
The minister’s application said compliance with Rahim’s order will result in them not presenting themselves for deportation and they will make attempts to avoid detection.
“The respondents are all illegal migrants and do not have any right to remain in TT in light of the unchallenged deportation order made by the appellant. These deportation orders have also been declared to be valid by the learned judge.
“If the application for a stay of the learned judge’s orders is not heard urgently, the appellant’s unchallenged statutory power to deport the respondents will be rendered nugatory (null or no effect).”
In their application, Hinds' legal team contend there was no challenge to the legality of the deportation orders and arrangements for the Venezuelans' repatriation were in place for Thursday, “within a reasonable time.”
In their challenge before Rahim, attorneys for the migrants were successful on the argument of the unreasonableness of their period of detention. They were given permission to challenge this before docketed judge, Justice Avason Quinlan-Williams. The Judiciary is on its annual vacation.
The Appeal Court application said it was the minister’s experience that when orders of supervision are made, those who are conditionally released “inevitably fail to present themselves to the Immigration Division as required and (seek to) avoid detection” making it impossible for them to be deported.
It also said this is what the minister fears should the stay not be granted. Lawyers argued that their deportation will not affect the migrants' case since they can appear remotely.
“The public interest in the enforcement of an unchallenged right of the appellant to deport people who enter the country illegally would be irremediably prejudiced in the event that the stay of execution is not granted,” Hinds' lawyers argued.
The State also contends that if the migrants were deported, they would be removed from the heliport which they complained about in their lawsuit.
The State’s appeal raises eight grounds in which they contend Rahim was wrong and erred in law by the findings he made on Tuesday.
The intended appeal contends that having declared the deportation orders for the 64 valid, Rahim was wrong to order their conditional release and exceeded his jurisdiction by doing so.
It also contends he was wrong to grant them permission to seek judicial review and was wrong in his interpretation of the Immigration Act as it related to considerations to be taken when determining if an illegal migrant should be conditionally released.
The minister is represented by attorneys Gregory Delzin, Vanessa Gopaul, Shalini Singh, Avion Romain and Vincent Jardine.
Elton Prescott, SC, Criston J Williams, Blaine Sobrian and Shivanand Mohan appeared for the migrants.