The hundreds of unheard applications for permanent residence aren’t just an administrative logjam; collectively they constitute a potential human rights issue of great peril to the Cayman Islands.
The government’s crisis is a self-inflicted one, the result of a plan that appears to be more oriented around politics than sound and fair immigration policy.
There is no other rational explanation for the first sentence from a news story published in Friday’s Compass: “Although nearly 650 applications for permanent residence in the Cayman Islands have been filed since October 2013, not a single one was accepted or denied during the past year, according to Immigration Department records.”
You read that correctly. Not only have zero PR applications been approved; zero PR applications have been denied. In other words, all of the applications — and by extension the thousands of human lives associated with the paperwork — remain in limbo. (There were a handful of applications that were dismissed for obvious legal reasons, such as not meeting deadlines.)
As we have argued before, Cayman has every right to institute a strict immigration policy, even one that makes it practically impossible for any work permit holder to “graduate” to resident status, so long as it conforms to its own constitutional principles, its laws withstand tests from local and international courts, and it operates according to clear and transparent rules.
The Progressives’ strategy of inviting applications for PR, then not acting on any of them, fails to meet each and every one of those benchmarks.
As far as surmising motivations, we will offer up the simple thesis that the Progressives wish to avoid political consequences for granting PR (which eventually can lead to Caymanian status and voting rights) to a significant number of “foreigners.”
The politicians in power may want voters to believe that they have seized firm control over Cayman’s immigration policy and have tightened restrictions on potential new residents for the benefit of existing Caymanians. In fact, the opposite is true.
Consider Cayman’s Chief Justice Anthony Smellie putting officials “on notice” about potential injustice in Cayman’s immigration system. What the Progressives have done is to put the 650 PR applicants and the government on a collision course that terminates at the courthouse. In other words, the executive/legislative branch threatens to cede authority over Cayman’s immigration policy to the judiciary. (And judge’s rulings, like judge’s gavels, can be powerful and blunt.)
Does any of this sound familiar?
In 2003, then-Leader of Government Business McKeeva Bush found himself in just such a situation when a local justice sparked an initiative to give Caymanian status to any of the country’s long-term expatriate residents who took their cases to court.
“If those people had taken it to court, the floodgates were going to have to be opened,” Mr. Bush recalled during a 2012 interview. “I said, ‘that’s a dangerous thing.’”
Under extreme pressure, the government’s solution was the implementation of the revered (by some) and reviled (by others) Cabinet status grants, resulting in the en masse minting of 2,850 new Caymanians by Cabinet and hundreds of others through the Immigration board.
Given the benefit of hindsight, we (like Mr. Bush) don’t know if that was the best possible path for the government to take, but it seems to have been far superior to doing nothing and risking the possibility of 16,000 to 17,000 long-term residents becoming Caymanian overnight, with little to no vetting.
Perhaps this Progressives administration hopes to “stall” action on the hundreds of outstanding PR applications until after the 2017 elections, and push the pile of paperwork onto the lap of the next elected government.
If so, that is a most cavalier, cruel, and reckless approach. The lives of these long-term residents remain in abeyance, hostage to a system which, demonstrably, has failed them – and is failing our country.