OCC report called unfair

The Cayman Islands’ immigration chief has blasted an independent report critical of his department’s decision to deny a woman entry into the country on 5 December, 2006.

Chief Immigration Officer Franz Manderson also said during an interview last week that Complaints Commissioner John Epp had overstepped his authority in investigating the case. Mr. Epp denied that claim in a subsequent interview.

The Jamaican woman, who had been to Cayman twice before, was sent back home after immigration officers found she did not have enough money to support her stay here. Those officers also said they could not contact her fiancée on Cayman Brac.

Mr. Manderson said, according to the law which created the complaints commissioner’s office, matters involving security of the islands, including action taken with respect to passports are not subject to investigation by the OCC.

‘Mr. Epp had no jurisdiction in this matter whatsoever,’ he said, adding that his department would not pay the $500 cost of the woman’s travel to and from Jamaica as the OCC report recommended.

The complaints commissioner said the person making the initial complaint, the fiancée of the Jamaican woman who was denied entry to Cayman, is a legal resident of the islands. Therefore, he said border protection and security issues should not arise in his case.

‘He complains; he says: ‘I sponsored this woman and they send her back without even talking to me,” said Mr. Epp. ‘This failure of (immigration) officers to follow procedures is a direct injustice to him.’

The investigation by the complaints commissioner’s office found that the woman had a debit card with her when she arrived on 5 December, and possessed what Cayman Airways said was a valid plane ticket to the Brac.

The review also found that immigration officers had not attempted to call her fiancée on either of the department’s two airport office phones the day she arrived.

Mr. Manderson said his department was looking into whether the fiancée on Cayman Brac had been contacted, and said it was possible his officers could have tried to call him on their personal cell phones. He also noted that the woman’s ticket to the Brac was for 4 December and not 5 December.

At any rate, Mr. Manderson said the woman had $3 cash on her at the time she arrived and officers determined there was no way she could have supported herself during her stay here.

He said this conflicted with information on the woman’s travel visa, which stated she had at least $250 on her person.

‘How are we going to allow someone with $3 to spend the night in the Cayman Islands?’ Mr. Manderson said during an interview last week. ‘Immigration officers have to make these calls in real time. You’ve got a person here who had no ticket, three dollars, and they couldn’t find her sponsor. The flight back (to Jamaica) was leaving.’

‘If she had stayed the night, we would have had to keep her in the George Town police station or some other secure facility,’ he added.

Mr. Epp stated in his report that, had the woman been permitted to speak with Cayman Airways officials, she would have been allowed to travel to Cayman Brac.

Mr. Manderson said his officers would not have been able to make that determination.

‘How many times do you know of airlines honouring tickets that expired?’ he asked.

‘Immigration will process over two million people per year,’ Mr. Manderson added. ‘We have one complaint.’

Mr. Epp agreed that immigration officers have a heavy responsibility. But he also said they have a wide discretion available in performing their duties, and that it was the OCC’s job to make sure that discretion is used appropriately.

‘The immigration department has made significant strides in improving many facets of its operation,’ Mr. Epp said. ‘For this they are to be congratulated.’