Grisha concerned about ‘heavy-handed’ approach of recent joint Immigration controls

Chairlady of the Justice Committee in Parliament MP, the Honourable Grisha Heyliger-Marten


PHILIPSBURG, Sint Maarten — Chairlady of the Justice Committee in Parliament MP, the Honourable Grisha Heyliger-Marten, has sent nine questions to the Minister of TEATT, Justice and VSA asking for updates on the benefits of recent internationally publicized controls on local businesses.

On Tuesday evening, MP Heyliger-Marten also sent a press release to local media expressing severe concern over the “heavy-handed approach” the Ministries took during their recent controls to crack down on illegal activity on the island.

While she agrees that controls are necessary, she worries that the approach leaves many patrons of the establishments where Inspectors from the respective ministries and Uniformed Officers carried out the controls in a state of “shock and fright.”

“Having grown up in these circles, I have a broad and in-depth understanding of matters related to immigration on St. Maarten and still regularly receive feedback from past and current immigration officers about matters related to the immigration department. These veterans have all expressed never to experience controls of this nature and magnitude. Based on these insights, along with my own experience, I have serious concerns about the timing, magnitude, and adverse financial effects of these controls on the Government and community of St. Maarten and its recovering economy.”

In her letter, MP Heyliger-Marten questioned the ultimate objective of the controls. She also wants the Ministers to state the net benefits for the Government and the community of St. Maarten and whether the Ministries did a cost/benefit analysis to decide to execute the controls now while St. Maarten is still suffering economically from the impact of COVID-19.

She also wants the Ministers to give their thoughts on providing businesses 6-weeks to rectify any issues uncovered during controls rather than the immediate firm-handed approach. One suggestion is that the controls are carried out when it does not harm the guests’ experience.

“What are the average total costs per day per person detained during controls for being held in holding cells, including overtime for personnel, three meals per day, COVID-19 tests, and airline tickets back to their country of origin if they cannot afford to pay for these travel-related costs themselves?”

It is a severe concern that St. Maarten has not managed to get past the stage where Immigration matters such as the ones encountered where people are attempting to be positive contributors to society are so heavily criminalized.

She asks for a more humane approach and a tactic of confronting the businesses that do not leave an international impression that St. Maarten has entered into a Police State. This control method will deter visitors and residents alike from patronizing local businesses or even visiting the island. Messages have already begun to spread on the globally viewed website that speaks of uniformed officers storming establishments during the busy hours of the nights when guests are seated enjoying dinner.

She said St. Maarten could not afford business interruption when visitor numbers were already down 50 per cent, and COVID-19 regulations hurt travel.

“All relevant ministries have their responsibilities where it relates to preventing illegal practices like noise pollution, unhygienic food handling, employing undocumented persons, violating labour laws, etc. However, when carrying out these duties, one should consider St. Maarten and its people’s overall benefits.

Based on the information I received, the controls of supermarkets, bars, and lottery booths in the St. Peters area and two other neighbourhoods on Saturday, February 5th, 2022, yielded approximately eight (8) undocumented persons. I also understood that similar actions are carried out at businesses in Philipsburg during days when cruise ships are in port and tourists are shopping, and on weekends when restaurants are busy with patrons dining.

“When our visitors, especially children, see uniformed police and immigration storm businesses and start arresting people during dinner, we leave them with a terrifying memory of our island, which has tourism as its economic base. We must consider that these controls are not for major crimes and find a better way to get the job done so that your right to do your job does not harm the possibility of future jobs and economic activity.”