Premier Alden McLaughlin appears to be following through on his commitment to “sort out immigration,” and we applaud him for addressing it at the outset of his second term as premier of these islands. Our economic health depends on fixing this interminably broken system.
Whenever we see long lines outside of any agency, it is a sure sign that something is not working inside. At the Department of Immigration, the flaws can be traced to the top, literally to a lack of leadership: The department has been operating without a permanent chief since late 2014, when then-Chief Immigration Officer Linda Evans was suspended – with pay – for reasons that never have been publicly disclosed.
(We have written elsewhere and often about the inanity – less of a “waffle-word” would be “insanity” – of allowing civil servants to collect public paychecks, sometimes for years, without the burden of actually having to perform their duties. We simply do not understand why this practice is allowed to continue.)
But back to immigration: Assistant Chief Immigration Officer Jeannie Lewis also is on leave while she faces charges of knowingly assisting a person to land in the Cayman Islands.
And Senior Immigration Officer Garfield “Gary” Wong continues to operate under a cloud as he faces charges of careless driving, leaving the scene of an accident and driving under the influence of alcohol. The case is currently being heard in Summary Court, three-and-a-half years since the underlying incident took place in December 2013. Mr. Wong has pleaded not guilty to those charges.
Immigration is one of government’s busiest and most important departments, with responsibilities ranging from border control to visas, work permits, residency and status, as well as passports for Caymanians who wish to travel abroad.
Deputy Governor Franz Manderson surely understands the need for highly performing leadership in this critical department. The “Linda Evans matter” has been allowed to linger far too long. It’s unfair to her, it’s unfair to the department, and it’s unfair to the Cayman Islands. Friday of this week would not be an unrealistic deadline to resolve this matter, once and for all.
In the longer term, something must be done to streamline and simplify immigration policies and procedures – many of which fall under the purview of volunteer boards. As we have seen with permanent residency applications and the ever-lengthening wait times for approval of work permit applications and routine renewals, the existing infrastructure simply is not able to keep up with immense workloads and Byzantine regulations.
On the positive side, help may finally be on the horizon for the roughly 1,000 people whose permanent residence applications have been gathering dust (growing mold?), sometimes for years, in some musty corner of the Immigration Department.
Ministry Chief Officer Wesley Howell has announced that the Department of Immigration “has reassigned staff members and has recruited Caymanian university graduates to advance the processing of applications.” These workers, he said, will review the applications initially and prepare them for the board’s review.
This, however, raises, a huge red flag.
Many of these permanent residence applications contain hundreds of pages of extremely sensitive, personal and even intimate details about every aspect of an applicant’s life, including their education backgrounds, their medical records, salary history, loans and mortgage information, bank account balances, and on and on.
With so many new employees coming on board to process the backlog of permanent residence applications, how will the privacy and confidentiality of this sensitive information be assured?
Our concern goes beyond who will be vetting these applications and their accompanying documentation, to an overriding issue: Who will be vetting the vetters