Statement Delivered by The Honourable Arlington Musgrove, M.P., Minister of Immigration and Border Services at Press Conference

Statement Delivered by The Honourable Arlington Musgrove, M.P., Minister of Immigration and Border Services at Press Conference


Good evening Turks and Caicos

Good Evening to members of the press here and online;

I am the Minister for Immigration and Border Services, the Hon. Arlington Musgrove, and for those listening on the radio or online, or for those watching who do not immediately recognize the faces before you, I am joined by a number of colleagues here today who I will shortly introduce.

The focus of this press conference is in relation to border security and our theme for this evening is Illegal Migration: Breaking the Chains of Human Smuggling.  The challenge around border security is not a one-agency issue, but it is one which impacts the entire Turks and Caicos Islands, with multiple agencies regularly joining together, working in partnership as one team, to address this wicked issue.

The support staff present here reflects that multi-agency approach and I therefore have alongside me today:

  • Althea Been, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Immigration and Border Services
  • Emilio Seymour, Deputy Secretary of the Ministry
  • (I wish to also recognize my other Deputy Secretary Pascal Bacchus unfortunately could not be with us today)
  • Victoria Farley, Change and Program Manager of the Ministry
  • Sharlene Richards, Director of Immigration
  • Chawa Williams, Collector of Customs

From Royal Turks and Caicos Islands Police Force, we have:

  • Assistant Commissioner of Police Darron Williams
  • Assistant Superintendent Everett Warrican who leads the Police Marine Branch.

And from our Turks and Caicos Islands Regiment, I’m joined by:

  • Captain Francis Glinton
  • Lieutenant Earl Henry.

Additionally, I am pleased to have with me our partners from the US Homeland Security Investigations Unit:

  • Officer Brian and Officer Irving

 Now if I can begin to paint the picture…

As you are all aware, we have seen a significant increase in the number of migrant vessels coming from Haiti over the last twelve months.  This is certainly not unique to us in the Turks and Caicos Islands, as the Bahamas and the United States are two countries that we work closely with – including as part of the OpBat Alliance – who are also experiencing similar trends; and you would have seen or heard in the news about the challenges our neighbors in Haiti have, and how its citizens are mass-migrating.

But we are a small country, and this increased activity, if left unchecked would undoubtedly continue to pressure our systems and our resources.

Thus far in this financial year 2022/23 alone, we have caught and stopped [2,355] migrants trying to enter the Turks and Caicos Islands illegally, compared to [1,555] in 2021/22.  This is a 52% increased and represents 5% of our population – who would all be living here illegally in our communities had we not caught them.  Since Christmas alone, we have stopped 851 migrants from entering and disappearing into the Turks and Caicos Islands communities, and while many of us were enjoying time with our family and friends over the Christmas and New Year periods, our immigration, customs, police and Regiment officers were working on our behalf to stop a series of boats headed our way.

I am incredibly proud of the work that our immigration and customs team do throughout the year, and particularly over the periods when they could otherwise be with their loved ones. Those migrants were quickly processed, fingerprinted and repatriated, and if they come back, we will know because their fingerprints will tell us.

I wish to register here my sincere gratitude for our colleagues from the Royal Turks and Caicos Islands Police Force, including the Radar Station, and the Turks and Caicos Islands Regiment. Every migrant vessel interception requires the careful and considered work of the Radar and Police Marine Branch, usually in the early hours of the morning, spotting and identifying targets of interest, bringing vessels under control and escorting them to our shores safely.  Our Regiment colleagues are a fantastic support to land and sea surveillance and they are a critical part of the team tackling illegal migration across our Islands.

It is said that no good deed goes unpunished, and while our society is already struggling with the impact of uncontrolled migration, it is also true that every vessel that we catch represents even more cost to government as there are more people to be detained, more people to be repatriated.  But there is a very human element to this horrific trade in human beings and I want us to be clear that is exactly what this is.  Humans being smuggled, usually for money, across ninety miles of ocean, in dangerous vessels, very often overloaded and rarely with any safety features at all.  Too many times we know that too many people have perished on this journey.

So how are we breaking the chains of human smuggling?

We have been, and continue to be, successful at intercepting large sloops, and we also remain successful – and fast – at processing and repatriating those who come here illegally.  But we know that we cannot continue to expect to intercept and repatriate our way out of this problem.  We need to dig deeper, and we need to target those organizing this abhorrent human trade.  Targeting the organizers will give us a far better chance at disrupting and dismantling this transnational criminality.

Human smuggling is a despicable crime and in 2022 the Turks and Caicos Islands Government recognized this by updating the Immigration Ordinance to create a new criminal offence – Aggravated Assisting Illegal Entry – an offence which takes into account these smugglers’ recklessness in gambling with people’s lives, and which carries a maximum sentence of 14 years imprisonment.  These are not victimless offences and convictions for these offences carry big sentences for a reason.  We take them very seriously and those involved are serious criminals who profit from the misery of others.  Since the introduction of that offence last year, 2 persons have been charged and although it is often difficult identifying the persons who should be held accountable, we continue to push our intelligence and investigations to uncover just that, more and more, and we remain confident that eventually we will see more persons charged and convicted.

Additionally, we amended the ordinance in relation to assisting illegal entry, an offence which now, carries up to seven years imprisonment.  Since those changes, 4 persons were charged and found guilty, and sentences ranged from [6 Months imprison with deportation recommended] to [36 months imprison with deportation recommended].

Parallel to this, in an attempt to dissuade migrants from coming, we have enhanced our approach to tackling illegal working.  Major operations have taken place across our islands targeting rogue employers who hire persons illegally.  These operations are on-going but so far 9 have concluded, with 1 employer successfully convicted of offences. We will not let up on these operations, because we know that this is a big pull factor for illegal migration. There are more employers suspected of employing illegals out there, and contrary to popular opinion, our focus is not simply on local businesses, our focus is on all businesses and I am encouraging all companies to get their office in order, as we will not go easy on anyone found contributing to this illegal activity.

Our local partnerships are critical in undertaking multi-agency activity and, as a further attempt at deterrence, our Immigration Taskforce continues to lead and to support multi-agency operations, across the Islands, targeting migrants who reside in the country unlawfully as well as those who employ and harbour them.  Over the financial year 2022/2023, 17 multi-agency operations were undertaken, leading to 14 arrests.

This year, we extended our relationships beyond our borders and established firm working relationships with our US counterparts.  Under ‘Operation Expanded Impact’, the US Department of Homeland Security, the Homeland Security Investigations team – ‘HSI’ for short – has a rolling secondment of a Special Agent here in Turks and Caicos Islands.  This Special Agent is embedded in our Immigration and Customs Team and works alongside our own TCI officers to bring the wealth of US investigation capabilities to our investigations here in TCI.

We have also partnered with the US on air surveillance; with a US aircraft now routinely based here in the TCI.  Daily surveillance flights are common-place, and act both as a deterrent and an early warning system to give us the best chance of intercepting an illegal vessel far from our shores.

Sticking with our enhanced US relationships, December 2022 saw the first deployment of Operation Alliance.  This is a TCI-led operation – our own officers leading, on TCI soil – a joint team of TCI officers and US Special Agents, to investigate every migrant vessel arrival as they occur, to capture and process every intelligence opportunity and to work to progress to criminal charges.  Three of those Special Agents are with us now and, whilst it would be inappropriate to set out their exact tasks, they are working alongside us to map and track the criminal networks involved in smuggling with the aim of bringing them to justice.  So perpetrators, beware, you now have officers from two jurisdictions working together to find you and bring you to justice.

As we continue our journey to transition to become a Border Force this year, our focus has shifted to rely more on intelligence to guide our activity.  80% of the work of the Immigration and Customs departments is now intelligence-led.  In many instances we have the general public to thank – you give us information and we respond to that.  Thank you, and please keep telling us what you know.

You would have seen through press release the details of arrest of a Police Officer charged with the harbouring of illegal migrants, and in a separate incident, the capture of illegal migrants on a commercial vessel. I cannot say much about this because investigations and court matters are ongoing, but I will say that this is a testament to my teams resolve to disrupt this organized criminal activity. And this is just the beginning – you will be updated as we progress this and other matters before us.


On the 11th January 2023 and following the deteriorating state in Haiti and a number of triggers such as;

  • The increase number of irregular migrants attempting to enter the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) over the last year illegally and clandestinely;
  • Upsurge in violent crimes in Haiti;
  • Upsurge in violent crimes in the TCI;
  • Number of persons repatriated and deported to Haiti recently:
  • Rise in communicable and infectious diseases in Haiti (cholera etc.);
  • Hiring of illegal immigrants and persons not authorized to work in the TCI by unscrupulous employers;
  • Noticeable propensity of persons arriving in the islands who are violating the terms of their visitor’s visa by overstaying and engaging in gainful occupation;

a decision was taken by my Government to place a moratorium on visitors’ visas starting immediately and for the next six (6) months. This decision is being enforced by the Visa and Immigration Department and is yet another means by which the government continues to take strategic measures to protect the lawful population of the TCI.

I have received comments from concerned citizens that visas are still being issued, so I will remind the public that all applications prior to the 11th January 2023 would be honored and processed in the usual way. However, no new applications are being accepted by the Customer Service Department during this period which ends on 10th July 2023.

While it is regrettable that this measure had to be taken at all, I gave my assurance that my government will do all that is necessary to protect our beautiful islands. I remain committed to protecting our borders and the good people of the TCI. This moratorium will be kept under constant review and visa issuance will be restored when we are convinced that there is reduction in the risk that the above-mentioned triggers pose to our islandseconomy and our way of life.

As a final message, I wish to address the cries of my people to cut ties and trade with Haiti in the wake of the risk that they pose to our borders and our communities. I want the public to understand that we are in a very precarious position in that we depend on the diplomatic relations between the TCI and Haiti in order to repatriate illegal migrants. Should those ties be severed, we would be forced to keep all migrants entering our borders illegally from Haiti, here. That means every boat, every interception, all 2,355 migrants repatriated for 2022/2023 would remain here. This would not be sustainable and we cannot afford to lose the option of repatriation. It is better for us to continue to tackle improving interception, dismantling organized human smuggling and eliminating the pull factor of illegal employment, to cut down on illegal migration, than to take knee-jerk decisions that could cost us our very country in the long run.

With this I wish to again register my thanks to all officers and agencies who continue to work diligently and put their lives on the line to protect our beautiful by nature, Turks and Caicos Islands, and to you the general public for your support and your prayers for our government and our teams.

  • PublishedMarch 18, 2023

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