Cuban-Caymanians in limbo

A group of Cuban and Central American migrants – possibly numbering as high as a few hundred – who came to the Cayman Islands in the mid 1990s now face the possibility of expulsion from the place most of them have called home for more than a decade.

The story is a complex one, steeped in the history of internal conflicts of countries in the Caribbean region, the refugees of which left their homelands and fled to many areas…Cayman being one of them.

‘They have been here for a long time,’ Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush said Monday. ‘I believe the government can find a way to remedy the situation.’

Mr. Bush urged the government to allow certain individuals from Cuba who were having difficulty with immigration status in the Cayman Islands to remain here, whether they are able to obtain permanent residence under Immigration Law or not.

The Legislative Assembly debated the issue, filed as a private members motion by Mr. Bush, on Monday.

Back bench MLA Osbourne Bodden also requested that government look at those from areas like Honduras who are now experiencing similar problems.

‘These are our people,’ Mr. Bodden said.

During the decades of the 1960s, 70s and 80s many citizens of Cuba and Honduras especially came to Cayman and established roots here. Some stayed; some went back to their home countries and left family members behind.

In 1994, a decision of Cayman’s Executive Council (now called Cabinet) allowed Cubans with family connections in Cayman to return and remain in the country without obtaining a work permit. Mr. Bush, who was on the council at the time, said the understanding was that if they stayed for long enough, they would have to apply for permanent residence.

‘It was accepted by government,’ Mr. Bush said. ‘At that time, we were importing people from the region and all over the world.’

In the ensuing years, some of those people applied for and were granted permanent residence. Others did not. Mr. Bush estimated well more than 200 Cubans with Caymanian family connections took up the opportunity to return to Cayman.

‘Since the 1990’s they have lived among us…this is their home,’ Mr. Bush said. ‘Their children know no other home than the Cayman Islands.’

Mr. Bush told the Legislative Assembly Monday that some Cubans who did not get their immigration status regularised back in the 1990s have recently been applying for permanent residence. He said some have been denied.

It seems that times have changed.

Cayman Islands Immigration Law (2007 Revision) now requires those applying for permanent residence to meet certain criteria according a ‘point system’ in which applicants earn points for things like owning property, and volunteer work. Generally, the system seeks to determine that an applicant for permanent residence has something invested in and a substantial connection to the community to which they wish to belong.

Cayman was operating under a different Immigration Law in the mid 90s and Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts pointed out that if these people fail to obtain permanent residence and are forced to leave, there may be nowhere for them to go.

‘It is a difficult situation for them,’ Mr. Tibbetts told the Assembly. ‘There is no travel document for them such as a Cuban passport that they can get, and they certainly can’t get one in the Cayman Islands.’

Mr. Tibbetts said Chief Immigration Officer Franz Manderson is considering how best to handle the matter, whether through an amendment to Immigration Law or by an executive order. He said it was possible something akin to an amnesty period could be granted for what is generally thought to be a small number of migrants who find themselves in this situation.

Mr. Bush thanked the government for accepting the motion and urged them to create a final solution.

‘These persons now really have no immigration status,’ he said. ‘I don’t want to make a mountain out of a molehill, but it’s a mountain for some of these people.’

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