Time for immigration reform in Belize
By Wellington C. Ramos
Prior to the independence of Belize on September 21, 1981, it was difficult for the country to grant amnesty, permanent residencies and citizenships to foreigners because Belize was a colony of Great Britain and Belizeans were still technically considered as British subjects.
At that time, the police department was responsible for immigration matters and people who entered the country illegally were arrested, brought to the magistrate courts and sent back to their respective countries. There were times when the police would escort these aliens all the way to the Guatemalan and Mexican borders but, by the time they got back to their police stations, those same aliens would return back to their districts and it was frustrating.
During those years, the minister that was responsible for the police department under the People’s United Party (PUP) was Carl Lindbergh Rogers, better known as Lindy Rogers. He abused his power when it came to prostitution, illegal immigrants and the apprehension of some of the members of the People’s United Party when they committed crimes in Belize.
There were also other ministers in the PUP government who had immigration stamps in their possessions and they were granting aliens permission to stay in Belize as if they were immigration officers. When police officers would arrest the prostitutes, illegal aliens and the PUP members who committed crimes, orders would be sent from Belmopan from the commissioner of police to release the people from police custody. All the police officers did was complain and if they spoke about it they were transferred from their stations, refused promotions, victimized or expelled from the police force for trivial reasons. Anyone who was a member of the Belize Police Force during my time can support me with what I am saying because this was the way the Belize Police Force was functioning during those days.
When I was a Corporal of Police in Orange Walk District in the late 1970s, I went on a drug operation in Indian Church village, which is far from Orange Walk Town. We discovered that some Guatemalans were living in the country illegally and they were cultivating marijuana in the village. We found the marijuana plants and arrested the ten Guatemalan nationals. I then ordered the other police officers to have the prisoners pack up their belongings and we confiscated the bags of marijuana and took them to Orange Walk Town for processing. I told one of the prisoners that I was going to charge him for “illegal entry into the country of Belize”. He said to me that I cannot charge him for “illegal entry” because he works for Minister Florencio Marin from Corozal. I was shocked and amazed by this so I asked him to show me his Guatemalan passport. When he gave me his passport I looked inside of it and it had a stamp with the signature of Minister Florencio Marin.
Upon examining the other prisoner’s passports, they all contained the same stamp. I was so angry, I brought this matter to the attention of the inspector and he told me that he was going to discuss it with the Commissioner of Police in Belmopan. I then left the police station to have supper, with the intention of continuing the processing when I returned. When I got back to the station, I was told by the police officer who was the station diarist that all the prisoners had been released from custody. I went into the inspector’s office and demanded an explanation and he said that he received orders from Belmopan to release the prisoners. The operation started at 4:00 a.m. that morning and ended at 6:00 p.m. that evening, a total of about seventy miles of journey all in vain.
I can point to several other incidents where the ministers of government obstructed the duties of the Belize Police Force when enforcing the laws of Belize and I eventually decided to leave the country afterwards. Police officers cannot exercise their duties properly anywhere if ministers of government continue to interfere with the internal affairs of the police force.
After the independence of Belize, the People’s United Party, under the leadership of George Cadle Price, granted amnesty to hundreds of Guatemalan and Salvadoran nationals and created a village for them called The Valley of Peace. Not only were they given citizenships but also land, housing and other privileges that most natural born Belizean citizens were being denied even up to this day. This amnesty made me angry because it was the Guatemalan and Salvadoran armies that were assembled by the Belizean border to take Belize by force in 1976 under the presidency of Kjell Laugerud Garicia, a military general.
Shortly after the amnesty, Belize came up with the economic citizenship program where Belizean citizenships were sold for thousands of dollars to Chinese nationals and the funds were unaccounted for. This program was done without the approval and knowledge of the Belizean people and continued under the UDP administration until a commission on inquiry was held to decide whether to continue or discontinue it. Sometimes you can see on the internet that Belizean citizenships can still be obtained under this program but I do not have enough information about it like most other Belizean citizens to confirm.
The constitution of Belize prohibits citizenship to be granted to Guatemalan citizens because their country does not recognize the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Belize. Once Guatemala changes its position with Belize, this restriction will be removed. However, a minister of the Belize government can grant a waiver to the Guatemalan national to get his or her Belizean citizenship.
Belize needs to legislate a clear path to obtain amnesties, permanent residencies and citizenships after a criminal background and national security check on these potential candidates have been completed. This is the only way that Belizeans and foreigners alike will know what our government’s requirements are to obtain the change for foreigners’ immigrant status in Belize. I think that there should also be an “oath of allegiance” that people swear not to bear arms against our country but to defend Belize against any other country if it is attacked.
January 25, 2012