The Morning Brew hostess Natalee Legore engages Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley on the Venezuelan migration issue during the show at Guardian Media’s St Vincent Street, Port-of-Spain headquarters yesterday.

Joel Julien

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Venezuelan migrants cannot have more rights here than T&T nationals, Dr Keith Rowley has said.

“Get a boatload of Trinidad and Tobago people now and decide which country you want to send them to and send them. Just try that.

“We could be beating up on ourselves here and talking about the country is disgraced because we sent certain people back home, but we experience that all the time,” Rowley said during an interview with Natalee Legore on CNC3’s The Morning Brew show yesterday.

Rowley said he went to a function hosted by the late Wayne Chance, founder of Vision on a Mission, and saw “two big men” cry because of how they were deported back to T&T without knowing where they were going.

“So, don’t get too carried away by the conversation of interested people. Everybody has an agenda in this immigration matter,” Rowley said.

“Our border is closed,” he reiterated.

“I have a daughter in New York since January and she cannot come home. Born and bred in Woodbrook, has to get permission to come into this country, and an illegal immigrant jump in a boat, get on the beach on Los Iros and a lawyer is telling me that person has more right than a child in Laventille who cannot move from here. Come on, let’s get serious.”

Rowley said his Government has been humane when dealing with this issue, as was evidenced by the registration process that took place last year. Some 16,543 Venezuelan migrants were registered to work legally here during that process.

“What we are doing is how much we can do as a little country in a difficult situation. If we send the message across the channel to Venezuela that you are free to come to Trinidad by the thousands because the laws of Trinidad and Tobago and the courts of Trinidad and Tobago will protect you, what you think is going to happen?” he said.

Rowley said T&T cannot handle an influx of hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans.

“We never had a restriction on Venezuelans until recently, because the situation demanded that we pay attention to the potential of being swamped by large numbers of people that would create bigger problems for us in Trinidad than they have in Venezuela because 100,000 people, 200,000 from Venezuela to Trinidad will create a crisis here that we have not even thought about,” he said. (See editorial on page 12)

Rowley also warned T&T nationals to be careful about what laws they want enforced in this country.

“What we have to be careful with is that some of the arguments being presented in the court, if those arguments are accepted and put into law in Trinidad and Tobago, I will simply want to warn that it does not only apply to Venezuelans coming here, it applies to anybody who is not a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago,” he said.

He also warned Venezuelan migrants entering T&T illegally that they will be deported.

“We have not taken a decision to register more Venezuelans, what we have also done—and the policy still stands, at the time of registration, if you were not among those who were registered who were here, who have come in over a period of time—if you were not among them and you turn up in Trinidad and Tobago, we will exercise our right to deport you but of course it is on a case by case basis,” he said.

He also warned migrants currently registered here that if they aid or abet their compatriots to come to T&T illegally, they too will be deregistered and deported.

“We are not putting up a flag saying all children can come here,” Rowley said.

Over the weekend, T&T deported 160 Venezuelan migrants who had entered the country illegally.