Cuban migrants are helping to renovate the immigration detention center and building a new checkpoint and walkway at the neighboring women’s prison.
Prison Director Neil Lavis said some of the migrants are skilled tradespeople and had volunteered to assist with the much-needed upgrades.
The work has allowed a second section of the detention center building, previously deemed uninhabitable, to be opened, doubling capacity.
The increase means that though the number of Cuban migrants on island remains high, officials hope to avoid a repeat of last year’s space crunch, when community centers were used as overspill facilities.
He said the renovations have increased the capacity of the building from around 40 to 100.
He expects there will still be occasions when the community centers are called into use when numbers are especially high, but that should be less frequent.
There are currently 84 Cuban detainees on island.
“The numbers are still very high. I can’t remember when we were last below 50, so even with the new space, it is still close to capacity,” said Mr. Lavis.
He said the additional space, which opened in July, is part of the same building. Since it opened, the center has exceeded its new capacity only once, he said.
Mr. Lavis said it is too early to tell how the repeal of the U.S. “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy, which gave favorable treatment to Cuban migrants arriving in the U.S., would affect the number of migrants arriving on Cayman’s shores.
On the issue of putting the migrants to work while they are detained here, he said, “They are willing to help us. They would rather be doing something than just sitting around. Some of them have some skills and have indicated they would like to do some work.”
A group of Cubans who are waiting to be processed by immigration officials is helping prison officers construct a new checkpoint and walkway corridor at Fairbanks women’s prison and juvenile detention facilities next door to the detention center.
For Fairbanks Deputy Director Claira Range, it is a welcome addition. “It has been very, very long in coming and very much needed,” she said.
According to Ms. Range, the previous arrangement was a simple table inside the building, which made it difficult to process inmates arriving at the facility. She said officers often had to come out of the building in the rain or hot sun to process inmates.
“Having the checkpoint and corridor in place is more appropriate,” she said. “When inmates come through the gate, they come up to the window, hand in their stuff, it is scanned by an officer and searched before they are allowed to go into the building. The corridor is to protect them and us from the wind and rain.”
She added, “The Cubans work very fast and they are quite willing to help.” She said Fairbanks had material, but the difficulty was in getting someone to steer the project and complete it quickly.
“It’s been a long time coming, since I had been asking for the checkpoint and corridor. Finally, Director of Prisons Neil Lavis gave us the go-ahead, with officer Holgate in charge of the project,” Ms. Range said.
According to Ms. Range, 15 inmates are presently incarcerated at Fairbanks.
Line officer Ephraime Holgate has 10 Cubans working on the project along with him.
Officer Holgate said although he does not speak Spanish, he and the migrants are working well together as tradesmen.
“They know some of the trade to a degree … once they are inclined to the profession they catch on very quickly,” he said.
“We communicated just by the nature of the trade. I show them what to do and they get it done,” he added.
Yorgi Fonseca, a boat captain and the only English speaking Cuban in the group, said the men had skills in most areas of the construction field. They have a skilled mason, carpenters, firemen, welders, construction workers, sailors and more, he said.
Trying to get his point across in broken English, one Cuban said, “In Cuba, only prison … no work, … prison, prison, … plenty businesses no money, … no changes since Castro died.” Another said, “In Cayman, plenty work, Cayman good.”
Dorian Hunter, a Cayman inmate skilled in heavy equipment, welding and other areas of the construction field, said he was assisting to make good use of his time.