Border control merger a ‘multi-year’ project

The merger of Immigration and Customs into a joint border control agency could take years to implement, Premier Alden McLaughlin said Wednesday.

Though the new agency will be established on Jan. 1 under the leadership of the current Collector of Customs Charles Clifford, the premier acknowledged there was much work to be done before the new “intelligence-led” approach to border control could be fully implemented.

He said “tremendous amounts of training and cross-training” needed to take place, as well as the introduction of new technology. Eventually, existing customs and immigration officers will perform dual duties.

Speaking as he tabled the Customs and Border Control Bill in the Legislative Assembly on Wednesday, Mr. McLaughlin said the ultimate aim was to create a “single checkpoint” at the border for the majority of passengers and goods, while establishing more robust, secondary checks for high-risk passengers.

The bill is part of a package of legislation being brought during this session to reconfigure how the Cayman Islands deals with border control, workforce management and immigration issues.

Mr. McLaughlin said changes would be incremental.

“There remains a lot of work to be done after that date [Jan. 1] to complete the merger and re-engineer our border control business processes. The merger is therefore a multi-year project,” he said.

The premier noted that the Cayman Islands government had received tremendous support from the U.S. and the U.K., which made a similar transition to create its own border agencies.

He said the challenges facing Cayman were becoming more complex and the transition would help modernize the island’s border security.

“When you consider that we are merging all of the border control functions of these two agencies, including their existing intelligence units, you begin to appreciate this merger, coupled with focused intelligence and risk management training and the opportunity for smarter staff deployment, will create the platform for more effective border control in these beloved islands.

“The scale, scope and complexity of national security is transforming. The Customs and Border Control Bill will further support the government in providing the public with a modernized border control framework to manage inherent security risks and to improve national security.”

Legislators were still debating the bill at press time Wednesday.

With opposition members, including Arden McLean, indicating at least partial support for the bill in the early stages of the debate and the government’s strong majority in the house, it was expected to pass without issue.

Mr. McLean said he was “not big on compliments,” but acknowledged the government deserved credit for bringing the proposed merger to the house.

He said he was disappointed to see it was not accompanied by new underpinning legislation for the planned new Coastguard, which will remain under the auspices of the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service and ultimately the governor.

He added that he supported the plan to bring in a new helicopter for that unit, and praised the appointment of Robert Scotland as head of the Coastguard and of Mr. Clifford as head of the Customs and Border Control agency.

“I have a lot of confidence in those two individuals that this is going to work, but it is going to take a while,” Mr. McLean said. “It is important for all of us to give those two new agencies the opportunity to work.”