Case reveals immigration quandary
Kishna Burke has lived in the Cayman Islands since age 5. She’s now 23, and Cayman is the only home she knows.
Yet until late last year, when the police cadet was granted Caymanian status by Cabinet, it appeared she was going to have to be sent back to the land of her birth, Jamaica – a place she no longer knew and where she has no family.
Ms. Burke’s situation is one of many such cases involving younger people now caught up in the intricacies of local immigration laws. They were either born in Cayman or came here with their families when they were very young. For whatever reason, their immigration status was never regularized before they reached age 18.
Upon reaching the age of the majority, they are either left to apply for permanent resident status on their own, or move back to their country of origin to a place they don’t know. In some cases, due to the circumstances of their parentage, the children are not citizens of any country and are, in effect, “stateless.”
That wasn’t the case with Ms. Burke. Her father, who is Jamaican, migrated here and eventually received Caymanian status through the normal legal process.
However, Premier Alden McLaughlin said Ms. Burke’s family did not have that status extended to Ms. Burke, as is permissible under the Immigration Law, before she turned 18.
“At age 18, the circumstances were such that Ms. Burke did not qualify for Caymanian status,” the premier said, introducing a government motion to the Legislative Assembly on Friday to ratify Ms. Burke’s status. Although Cabinet had already approved that status, Cayman Immigration Law requires all Cabinet status grants to be approved by the full Legislative Assembly membership.
Ms. Burke, now a trainee officer with the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service, has proved an upstanding member of Cayman’s community, the premier said.
“She has conducted herself well through her formative years,” he said. “She is now 23 years old and we believe she deserves the right to be Caymanian.”
“In March 2011, she was advised to apply to Cabinet for the right to be Caymanian,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “As a new entry into the workforce, it was unlikely that she would receive enough points to qualify for permanent residence [on her own].”
If she had not applied to Cabinet for status, Mr. McLaughlin said it was likely Ms. Burke would have been forced to return to Jamaica. He said government was certainly disturbed at “the thought of her returning to Jamaica at the age of 18 with no relatives to care for her.”
Legislators approved the Caymanian status grant for Ms. Burke on Friday without disputing it or even commenting on it.
That was the end of Ms. Burke’s matter, but not the wider immigration problem Cayman will soon be dealing with in dozens, or possibly hundreds, of separate cases.
“The Department of Immigration has advised this is not an isolated case,” Premier McLaughlin said.
Under revisions to the Immigration Law in 2005, written and approved by the former People’s Progressive Movement government, Cabinet can approve only four status grants each year.
Since the law was changed, successive Cayman Islands Cabinets have only approved three such grants of status, including Ms. Burke’s.
Mr. McLaughlin said four status grants per year will not come close to taking care of the numbers of young people who may fall into the same situation.
“This government will consider future mechanisms to allow such cases to be handled without a grant of Cabinet status,” Mr. McLaughlin said.
He did not specify what those changes might be, but the government is expected to propose a second round of changes to the Immigration Law later this year, mostly involving regulation of the work permit system.