However, target No. 1 was clearly Premier Alden McLaughlin’s Progressive-led coalition government, which has identified wholesale revisions to the current Immigration Law as one of its first legislative priorities.
“We are here to fight for our rights and the rights to our jobs,” said Vadlee Douglas. “Two-thousand Caymanians are out of a job, and Alden is fighting to give more statuses?”
Ms Douglas’s comments refer to the pending fate of 1,500 or so Term Limit Exemption Permit holders who will have to leave the country later this month if the government’s immigration reform proposal fails. The Immigration [Amendment] [No. 2] Bill, 2013, would allow those term limit exempted workers to remain until Dec. 9, 2013 and, if they wish to, apply for permanent residence – the right to stay in Cayman for the rest of their lives.
“The view has also been put abroad that if these 1,500 Term Limit Exemption Permit holders were sent home, that 1,500 Caymanians would find job immediately,” Mr. McLaughlin said in a recent address to the Chamber of Commerce. “The truth is that, of this number, over 900 are for jobs as domestics, gardeners, caregivers and in other jobs, which Caymanians have clearly demonstrated they have no interest in filling.”
North Side MLA Ezzard Miller rejected this line of reasoning Friday during the protest march and put forth conspiracy theories about the immigration reform bill being proposed to “satisfy somebody who asked for it.”
“We have to inconvenience the people who have asked for this law,” Mr. Miller said, yelling into a megaphone in the middle of Elgin Avenue just prior to the march on the Legislative Assembly. “Participatory democracy demands that I come to you first and ask you what to do about the problem.”
Mr. McLaughlin has pointed out that a version of the immigration reform bill appeared in the Progressives 2013 pre-election manifesto and was written about extensively in the local press prior to the general election. The Progressives won nine of 18 legislative seats in the May 22 general election and added a tenth member when Speaker of the House Juliana O’Connor-Connolly joined the party.
“It has not escaped my attention that, either through ignorance or mischief, there are people who have been playing on the emotions of Caymanians, to try to convince them that their interests are not being protected by the amendments to the immigration bill,” Mr. McLaughlin said in his Chamber address.
Emotions were running high outside the Legislative Assembly on Friday, where a group of about 70-90 protesters carried signs stating ‘Roll back to three year rollover’ and ‘Nine years is too much.’ Those comments referenced the Progressives-led government’s proposal to extend the current seven-year term limit on non-Caymanian workers’ residency to nine years and let every foreign worker who stays for at least eight years apply for permanent residence.
“After all Caymanians are employed, then they can do work permits, but let Caymanians come first,” said Edith Williams, one of the protest marchers.
The protest group was joined by a few non-Caymanians as well, including Amjed Zureigat, nicknamed locally “the Jordanian ambassador.”
“I live here eight years now,” Mr. Zureigat said. “I see my neighbors suffering, they’re losing their jobs and their homes.”
Upon arrival at the Legislative Assembly, dozens of protesters attempted to gain access, waving signs and placards. Police officers informed them that this was against the law. The demonstrators then agreed to put down their signs and enter in single file, “ladies first.”
Long-time Caymanian activist Billy Adam summed up the protesters’ feelings outside the assembly building, comparing the award of Caymanian status to a checklist required for the inspection of a car.
“In the Cayman Islands, that’s what Caymanian status has become,” Mr. Adam said. “How many people do they want? Two-hundred thousand? Three-hundred thousand? Seventy-five thousand? They don’t know.”