Judge again refuses to stop ex-Venezuelan mayor's deportation

Chaguaramas Heliport, Western Main Road, Chaguramas - Photo by Anisto Alves
Chaguaramas Heliport, Western Main Road, Chaguramas - Photo by Anisto Alves

A FORMER Venezuelan mayor who fears political prosecution and execution if he is deported from Trinidad again approached the High Court for protection.

He was, again, rejected.

Delvis Jose Reves Garcia is expected to return to Venezuela, by boat, on Tuesday morning.

On Monday, hours after a judge stepped down from hearing Garcia’s application, his attorneys filed another High Court action which was heard late Monday night by the first judge who denied to stop his deportation.

Garcia wanted the court to review the decision of the national security minister to order his deportation on October 20. His attorneys claimed the minister failed to consider he had applied for refugee status with the UN Refugee Agency and feared persecution or death if he is returned to Venezuela.

On October 25, at a midnight sitting, Justice Frank Seepersad refused the initial injunction but sent Garcia’s judicial review application to the docketed judge, Justice Ricky Rahim, to determine if permission should be given to challenge the deportation order.

On Monday, Rahim recused himself and the matter returned to Seepersad in the late afternoon. Seepersad then heard arguments after 8 pm, and at about 10 pm, he again refused to stop Garcia’s deportation.

Seepersad again said he took into account his previous decision on the status of the 1951 Refugee Convention in TT and his declaration that its obligations did not apply and can't be enforced here since treaty obligations were not incorporated into local domestic law.

He also ruled that the principle of non-refoulement was not binding on TT as it stood in conflict with provisions of the Immigration Act.

Seepersad’s judgment has since been appealed. On Monday, he reminded his declarations have not been stayed so they are binding at this time.

Seepersad said unless his previous ruling was overturned, it would be irresponsible to argue that the principles under the convention and those that relate to non-refoulement were applicable in TT and should have been considered by the minister.

“The minister does not have wide discretion,” Seepersad said, as he deemed the arguments advanced for Garcia to be “devoid of merit.”

The judge also pointed to evidence from the State of signed statements given by Garcia to immigration officials none of which pointed to his fears of persecution or death if returned to Venezuela. State attorney Nicole Yee Fung also presented another signed statement in which Garcia said he wanted to return to Venezuela on October 31 and purchased a boat ticket to facilitate this.

However, Garcia’s attorney Keron Ramkhalwhan said his client was claiming he was coerced by immigration officials to sign the statements.

“He never wanted to return voluntarily.”

Seepersad said while Garcia was allowed to change his mind on returning home, there was a lawful order for his deportation.

He also said there was evidence of Garcia being an economic migrant, going back and forth between the two countries, “without regard for the laws of TT” while refusing to obtain a Visa which is required for Venezuelan nationals.

“This case fails to meet the threshold for leave or any legitimacy for the request for interim relief.”

Garcia will have to pay the State’s costs of defending the failed applications.

In the new application, Garcia’s attorneys said at 2 pm Monday, they were allowed access to their client at the heliport in Chaguaramas and were able to get information from him. Garcia claimed he was tricked by immigration authorities into believing his court matter was completed and he had no option but to return to Venezuela.

He also claimed he was forced to sign a statement without explanation.

“ If I am deported I will be killed by the Venezuelan Government and the cartel working with the government. I do not want to go back to Venezuela,” Garcia said in his hand-written statement to his attorneys which was presented to the court.

A certificate of urgency filed by Garcia’s attorneys said, “ The intended applicant/applicant may potentially be killed by the Government of Venezuela and/or the cartel if the deportation order issued on October 20, 2023 by the Minister of National Security is executed.”

He was hoping the court would also quash the deportation order but in the interim, allow him to stay in TT until his claim was determined.

He said he wanted to stay in Trinidad and wanted his attorneys to continue trying to get him released and for him to get his refugee status. He has registered as an asylum seeker with the UNHCR. The application is pending.

Garcia, 36, was held on September 22, in Cocorite. He entered TT illegally three years earlier after fleeing Venezuela when he was threatened for lobbying with the Opposition party in the South American country.

Garcia was elected mayor in 2021 for the district of Guiera Estedo Suera. However, Garcia claims the election was stolen from him and he was forced to go into hiding after the ruling party refused to acknowledge his success at the mayoral election.

He has also protested against the Venezuelan government’s failure to provide basic amenities for citizens and he has a fear of being persecuted for lobbying against the Nicholas Maduro regime.

His family is said to be hiding in Venezuela and he is married with three children. He was also represented by attorneys Kiel Taklalsingh, Anwar Hosein and Shalini Sankar.

Also represented the State at Monday night’s hearing were attorneys Keisha Prosper, Shara Rajnauth, Sara Muslim and Lianne Thomas.


"Judge again refuses to stop ex-Venezuelan mayor’s deportation"

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