The Cayman Islands Legislative Assembly will be asked later this month to formally approve an additional $2.9 million for the housing, care, feeding and repatriation of Cuban migrants who illegally entered and stayed in the territory between July 1, 2015 and June 30, 2016.
That is on top of the $1.34 million the territory spent for the same care and housing during the government’s 2014/15 budget year.
During that year, an estimated 150-175 Cubans came to these shores illegally and were held at the Immigration Detention Centre in Fairbanks, George Town before being sent back home. Many of the migrants told immigration officers that they were on their third or fourth trip to Cayman – trying to make for mainland Central America in search of jobs or their families in the United States.
The money has already been spent. Lawmakers simply have to go through the process of “approving” the expenditure in the assembly and the ministry responsible, in this case Home Affairs, must state where the additional funds were taken from to pay for it.
Government officials were warned of the huge increase in expenditure by Ministry Chief Officer Wesley Howell in May 2016. Mr. Howell’s estimates put the amount government might have to spend at closer to $5 million for the two years.
Mr. Howell referenced situations last year where the number of detained Cuban migrants grew so large that the detention center could no longer hold them. Community centers in the eastern districts were used to temporarily house migrants until a number of them could be sent home.
Just a few weeks ago, the government said 113 migrants were still being housed in Cayman, although the community centers were no longer where they were being kept.
To put the additional $2.9 million from the current 2015/16 budget year in perspective, that is about what government intends to spend over the 18 months between July 1, 2016 and Dec. 31, 2017 on rental assistance for needy Caymanians ($2.9 million); more than government expects to spend for care of indigent, elderly and disabled individuals in those 18 months ($2.1 million); and more than government has budgeted to spend on a residential mental health treatment facility in the next budget ($2.5 million).
When its budget was first drawn up for the 2015/16 year, government estimated it would spend $270,000 on the care and services for “irregular migrants,” but it is widely acknowledged that figure is a “placeholder” and local officials will never know how many illegal migrants they have to deal with until those individuals arrive.
In late 2012 or early 2013, after a lengthy lull period, Cayman Islands authorities began noticing a huge influx of Cuban migrants to the islands in numbers not seen since the 1990s, when “tent cities” had to be set up in areas of Grand Cayman to house thousands fleeing Cuba.
The increase in Cuban migrants was generally blamed on a “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy the U.S. maintained toward Cuban migrants since the mid-1990s.
That policy was ended during the final days of U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration and Capitol Hill observers have noted it is unlikely to be renewed by current American President Donald Trump.
The policy required immediate repatriation, or transfer to another country, for any migrant intercepted at sea. However, if they make it to land, migrants would be given a chance to remain in the U.S.
Most of the Cubans traveling through Grand Cayman or Cayman Brac are on their way to Honduras, eventually intending to seek passage through Central America and Mexico to the southwestern U.S. The migrants can apply for asylum status as refugees in Cayman, but they are typically classed as economic migrants, rather than political asylum-seekers. For countries such as Cayman, caught in the middle of the migration, dealing with the problem of landed migrants has led to additional costs.