EDITORIAL – Immigration nightmare: Time for Cayman to ‘give up the ghost’

Policymakers’ failure to confront the problem of “ghost Caymanians” has created an exponentially more complex problem: a second generation – and perhaps soon, a third – of Cayman Islands residents with murky or restricted rights.

Cayman is home to an unknown number of people who do not have Caymanian status, but who were born here or raised here by parents who later became Caymanian. Instead, they exist in a kind of immigration limbo … here but also not here. Many of these “ghosts” – there could be several hundred or more – do not learn of their precarious situation until they attempt to apply for a job, travel overseas or secure residency rights for a spouse.

Consider the following scenario: A husband and wife move to Cayman as work permit holders. While in Cayman, they have a child. Later, the parents obtain Caymanian status, which gives the child Caymanian status “by entitlement.” When the child turns 17 (but before the age of 24), the child must apply for continuation of that status from the chief immigration officer.

If for some reason the child does not make that application, he loses his Caymanian status and a “ghost Caymanian” is created.

The issue was identified years ago, but successive elected governments have failed to remedy this unfortunate and untenable situation.

Unlike the Cuban migrants of today who wash up on Cayman’s shores and are repatriated or seek asylum, there is no formalized process or structure for dealing with “ghost Caymanians.” They may be from here, but they have little recourse under the current law.

More than a decade ago, lawmakers passed an intended fix – a special provision in Immigration Law that allowed anyone born in Cayman to non-Caymanian parents between March 27, 1977 and Jan. 1, 1983 to apply for Caymanian status. The law gave a deadline – Dec. 21, 2007. For whatever reason, many people did not grab hold of that life preserver, either.

People born to “ghost Caymanians” after Jan. 1, 1983, cannot obtain Caymanian status through their parents, even though they may have never called any other country but Cayman “home.”

Doing the math, it seems inevitable that a third generation of “ghost Caymanians” is on the horizon, if not already among us.

No doubt, personal responsibility plays a role in some of these cases, but the root cause is Cayman’s flawed and convoluted immigration framework. Cayman has a responsibility to the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of members of our community who are “Caymanian” in every sense of the word except for the strict legal definition.

Whether it’s achieved through Cabinet action, immigration legislation or some combination of the two, the only rational solution is for these people to be regularized and recognized as the Caymanians they are. Doing so would not constitute an act of charity but the long-overdue correction of governmental error.

If lawmakers do not act swiftly, Governor Helen Kilpatrick and the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office should consider intervening. Authority over immigration matters has been devolved to local authorities, but responsibility shifts hands from Cayman to the U.K. when grievances grow to become potential human rights violations … particularly when many of the people whose rights are being violated may also have substantive claims to British citizenship.

Remember, these residents are not actual “ghosts” – they are living and breathing individuals who are part of Cayman’s society.

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