A man whose work permit expired in 2006 was sentenced Monday to two years’ imprisonment, but with 18 months suspended.
“I believe you had yourself so assimilated into society that everyone thought you were fine.”
Magistrate Angelyn Hernandez said she constructed the sentence that way to give immigration officials time to deal with procedures before deporting him at the earliest opportunity.
The defendant, Charlton Hooker Powell, was brought to the attention of authorities when he was arrested last month for driving without a license.
“So if his bad luck did not kick in with a traffic offense, he would still be living with us,” the magistrate said.
Crown counsel Candia James and an immigration officer shared with the court what background they had.
Powell, a Colombian national who is now 37, came to Cayman on a visa in 2005. A temporary work permit was taken out for him as a carpenter’s helper from March 14 that year. In September 2005, he was granted a regular work permit until 2006. The charge against him was remaining without authority from Feb. 7, 2007.
His legal employer could not give immigration officers much information about Powell because he didn’t remember who he was. Powell’s mother was living here and she was contacted; she said she thought he had left. His brother told officers Powell would visit him, but did not live with him.
The defendant himself would not say where he had stayed or for whom he had worked. He told the court, “I was working here when I got something to do.”
“That’s all you have to say?” the magistrate said. She asked if he ever tried to make his situation legal.
He said he thought of it several times, but then he was scared of what would happen and time kept passing.
The magistrate asked how an overstayer could have remained undetected so long.
The officer said Powell had been looked at before and authorities had spoken with his mother.
“We get a list of overstayers,” the officer explained. “We go out and try to find them. We do our best.”
The magistrate said that would be easier to believe if the defendant had no family here – “but with family, that is where to look.”
The officer replied, “We didn’t know about the brother. And the mother was no longer here.”
Questions were raised about the car Powell was driving when stopped. The magistrate was told that it had been borrowed from the brother. This raised another question about whether the brother was harboring Powell, but the officer said nothing could be proved.
The magistrate said this was one of the most blatant offenses against the Immigration Law that she had seen.
“You have lived, worked and enjoyed life in the Cayman Islands from 2007 till now without any right to do so,” she told Powell. “Worse, you have not assisted the officers in saying how, and who helped you …. I believe you had yourself so assimilated into society that everyone thought you were fine.”
The situation showed that the Immigration Department needs more resources to find overstayers, she commented. “I want to know how many more of them are out there.”
Ms. James advised that the maximum sentence for the offense is imprisonment for five years and a fine of up to $20,000.
The magistrate inquired whether overstaying could be dealt with administratively – sending a person off island and then putting a stop order on their return.
The officer said that when the overstaying exceeds six months, the department prefers to have the court decide.