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UNC Senator Damian Lyder holds up a copy of the Sunday Guardian during the party’s press conference at the Office of the Opposition Leader, Charles Street, Port-of-Spain, yesterday.

Opposition Senator Damian Lyder estimates that there are over 150,000 illegal immigrants in T&T.

Speaking at a press conference in Port-of-Spain yesterday, Lyder questioned the estimate of 120,000 illegal immigrants that was given during a Ministry of National Security press conference last week.

“We expect that it is close to 200,000 based on the rate at which illegal immigrants are flowing into this country,” Lyder said, as he claimed that the lower estimate was revealed by national security experts over four years ago and was recently re-quoted.

Lyder also questioned claims by newly appointed National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds that members of the protective services were aware of 15 illegal ports of entry in the country.

Stating that the figure was closer to 80, Lyder said: “The Minister of National Security identified 15 ports of entry, but we know that there are many more.”

Lyder also complained that the Government failed to take Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s idea for a security dome, which was part of the party’s manifesto in last year’s general election, seriously.

“Our Prime Minister completely missed the point to play politics,” Lyder said.

He said that the dome was not a literal physical barrier over our country as claimed by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley but rather an international security concept whereby the land, sea, and air space of the country are simultaneously protected.

Lyder likened Persad-Bissessar’s idea to Israel’s mobile al-weather air defense system, which is referred to as “Iron Dome” and is used to intercept and destroy short-range rockets and artillery shells.

He claimed that Anguilla and Aruba had implemented similar systems to combat their illegal immigration issues and were successful.

He suggested that if the system was in place, there could be coordinated efforts from several Government agencies to address the problem.

He said that camps should be set up at popular illegal points of entry and police officers, immigration officers, health care workers, and customs officers should be hand to ensure that illegal immigrants can be swiftly deported and contraband items seized.

He said that the National Security helicopters and Coast Guard vessels could be repaired and operationalised to help patrol the air and sea.

He also suggested that the Government should move to establish an immigration detention centre in South Trinidad because currently illegal immigrants are held at police stations before being taken to a centre at the Chaguaramas Heliport.

He said that the system put citizens at risk as police officers with limited personal protective equipment (PPE) had to interact with such immigrants, who may be infected with contagious variants of the COVID-19 virus.

Local detainees are also forced to share cells with such immigrants in such situations, according to Lyder.

“We do not blame the T&T Police Service (TTPS), they do not have the proper resources,” he said.

He also claimed that he had received information that illegal immigrants were being summarily placed on orders of supervision by immigration officers instead of being detained and deported.

He also questioned the current rate of deportations but did not provide any evidence to buttress his claims and instead called on Hinds to respond.

“If you do not fix our porous borders we will be back to square one. We will have to keep locking down again and again,” Lyder said.

“I am not here to point fingers, to argue or blame. I am here to beg. Yes, I am begging that our Government secures our borders,” he added.