Passport pressure – Jamaica Observer

MINISTER of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Senator Kamina Johnson Smith has warned about the possible impact on the Jamaican passport by people using it to travel to Central American countries as part of a scheme to enter the United States illegally.
In recent months there have been several reports of Jamaicans travelling to Mexico, Panama and Belize as part of a multi-national network which moves people into the US without the necessary travel documents.
Addressing the knotty issue at a post-Cabinet media briefing on Wednesday, Johnson Smith underscored that not only is the trek dangerous but that it also has a negative impact on Jamaicans who want to travel to these countries legitimately.
“We are very concerned that Jamaicans are taking decision to travel in circumstances that are extremely risky and in some cases taking children with them, exposing them to dangerous situations including kidnapping, trafficking and even death,” said Johnson Smith.
“It is extremely risky for you personally, but it also affects the reputation of our passport which we have been working hard at strengthening,” added Johnson Smith as she noted that efforts are being made to increase the security embedded in the Jamaican passport to ensure that it cannot be replicated, and [that] the country’s border control and customs procedures are stronger.
“All of these things are being done to seek greater facilitation of movement with a Jamaican passport and actions and decisions like this [travelling to Central America to enter the US illegally] really do fight against the efforts of the Government and they do affect the reputation of the passport and the immigration experience of our lawful travellers,” said Johnson Smith.
The foreign affairs minister argued that the majority of Jamaicans who travel to Central and South America are lawful and travelling for legitimate purposes, but noted that the actions of a few make it bad for the majority.
“The ministry is trying to be proactive and bring to the attention of Jamaicans that this is not a good decision to take…We really want to ask Jamaicans to think,” Johnson Smith told the media briefing as she pointed out that the Jamaican Government is consulting at varying levels with its partners in Belize, Mexico and Panama.
“We do not want the immigration experience of our lawful travellers to get worse. We want our people who exercise their right to travel to do so without difficulty, comfort and with dignity,” added Johnson Smith.
She noted that it is a comparatively small number of Jamaicans who are using Central America to try to enter the United State illegally, but underscored that the actions of the few could affect many.
Johnson Smith pointed to figures validated by the Passport, Immigration and Citizenship Agency (PICA) which show that between 2018 and March 31, 2023, just over 140 Jamaicans were refused entry into Mexico while 2,167 were refused entry into Panama and a further 81 deported.
Johnson Smith noted that PICA is yet to compile validated figures from Belize as she pointed out that the US is working with other governments to clamp down on the illegal migrants.
On Tuesday the US, Panama and Colombia announced that they will launch a 60-day campaign aimed at halting illegal migration through the treacherous Darien Gap which connects the North and South American continents with Central America.
Details on how the governments will try to curb the flow of migrants that reached nearly 90,000 in just the first three months of this year through the dense, lawless jungle were not provided in the joint statement.
The ambitious announcement came as the Biden Administration nervously awaits the expected end of a pandemic-related rule May 11 that has suspended rights to seek asylum for many. Without that instrument of dissuasion at US borders, there is concern migrant arrivals could again become unmanageable.
The joint statement said the countries will also use “new lawful and flexible pathways for tens of thousands of migrants and refugees as an alternative to irregular migration”.
According to Panama’s government, more than 87,000 migrants crossed the Darien Gap in the first three months of this year, mostly from Venezuela, Haiti and Ecuador. That was up from nearly 14,000 migrants during the same period a year earlier.
The statement did not say how many Jamaicans are believed to have used the Darien Gap to illegally enter the US.
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