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The deportee situation is not peculiar to Trinidad and Tobago but to other Caribbean islands which are seeing an upsurge in crimes concomitant with the increase in the number of deportations of hardened criminals from the US.
It is an issue that has already received the attention of Caricom governments and national security officials, who have so far failed to get the American government to relent in its policy of what is tantamount to the exportation of its crime problem, to a region with neither the experience nor resources to tackle it.
Only Guyana has so far gone as far as refusing to accept the deportees, a position that led to a stand-off with the U.S. government which threatened to withdraw diplomatic accreditation if Guyana does not accept its "nationals".
One of the unfortunate aspects of the American policy, which is aimed at reducing the number of illegal aliens while at the same time reducing its crime problem, is that some of the deportees are only nominally Caribbean nationals. People who have spent their entire adult life in the United States and who quite often have no connection or relations to Trinidad and Tobago, for example, are being repatriated to not only considerable dislocation for them but also this country.
If a hardened criminal is deported to Trinidad and Tobago and has no ties here or familial network on which to rely, it is only to be expected that he will soon find embrace in the criminal underclass. There is no doubt that this is contributing to the rising crime rate in this country and across the region.
Not only is the U.S. dumping its home-grown criminals on our soil but there has been no real initiative to prepare local law enforcement to treat with what is a previously unknown level of criminal activity.
The matter has been raised at the regional level with the U.S. government but so far there has been no relenting in a policy that is clearly working to the best interest of the Americans. It is time, however, that we take a stronger stand on the matter since the national security of the country is now at stake.
Trinidad and Tobago has an excellent relationship with the United States which is our largest trading partner and the largest single source of foreign direct investment. It is because of this relationship, for example, that the government has consented to the closing off of a significant portion of Marli Street following the events of September 11 last year and the terrorist threat to Americans worldwide including in this country.
It is the kind of gesture in keeping with the relationship between the two countries and can only be expected given the threat faced by our neighbour to the North.
As the rise in kidnappings have shown, however, Trinidad and Tobago now faces a national security threat of its own requiring reciprocal assistance from Marli Street and its principals in Washington.
While the Guyanese approach may not be feasible given the influence wielded by the Americans, it may be time for government to take a more forceful position on this issue.
(Reprinted from yesterday's Trinidad Express)