Within “a week or two”, the Jamaican Government will have to accept dozens of deportees from the United States (US).
Minister of National Security Dr Horace Chang made the disclosure on Monday, days after US President Donald Trump signed an order that imposes visa sanctions on countries that refuse to accept the deportation of their citizens, even amid the global new coronavirus pandemic.
US coronavirus infections are close to 590,000 and deaths have topped 23,000.
Jamaica closed its airspace to incoming passengers – initially at midnight on March 21 before being extended two days later – as part of measures imposed by the Holness administration to contain the spread of COVID-19 locally.
Chang said that a batch of deportees was scheduled to arrive in the island earlier this month. However, he said the deportation was delayed after “discussions” with US authorities.
“We have been able to delay the entrance of a number of deportees, but we will have to accept them at some point. In fact, I expect that we will have to accept them within a week or two,” Chang told The Gleaner yesterday.
He could not give the precise number of deportees expected, but disclosed that the US “usually sends us between 50 and 60 every two months or so”.
“We would definitely want to keep it within that number so that we can manage them, and once they come in, we will have to quarantine them.”
Up to yesterday, Jamaica had 73 confirmed cases of SARS-CoV-2, the official name of the virus, with four deaths. According to the Ministry of Health & Wellness, 31 cases were imported, 34 were contacts of confirmed cases, six were local transmissions, while two are under investigation.
Trump’s new order was issued last Friday in a memorandum to the secretary of state and the secretary of homeland security. It will remain in place until December 31.
He argued that countries that deny or unreasonably delay accepting their citizens from the US during the pandemic create unacceptable public-health risks for Americans.
The president said the US must be able to repatriate foreign nationals who violate the country’s laws.
Under the directive, the secretary of homeland security is to notify the secretary of state if a country refuses to accept, or unreasonably delays, receiving its citizens and if that action impedes the operations of the Department of Homeland Security to respond to COVID-19.
The secretary of state then has up to seven days to initiate a plan to impose visa sanctions on the country.
“Tens of thousands of removable aliens have been released into communities across the country, solely because their home countries refuse to accept their repatriation. Many of these aliens are criminals who have served time in our federal, state, and local jails,” Trump said in his Executive Order on Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States.
“The presence of such individuals in the United States and the practices of foreign nations that refuse the repatriation of their nationals are contrary to the national interest.”
Chang revealed that Jamaica, through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, was able to convince the US to hold off on the deportations by pointing to the impact it would have on the efforts here to contain transmission.
“We are having a serious challenge. We were one of the first countries in the region to close our borders. Therefore, to break it open for deportees would pose a challenge to our entire system,” the national security minister said, summing up Jamaica’s pitch to the US.
“Essentially, we asked them to look at the two sides of the story … : Do we accept deportees and, if any of them come with any illness and begin to overwhelm our public health system, we would be in a very, very big situation.”
At the same time, Chang acknowledged that if the US government decided to impose sanctions on Jamaica, “we would be in serious problems”.
“Either way, we get hurt. Our economy depends heavily on our primary trading partners and therefore we don’t need a fight on that front.
“At the same time, we can’t afford to push our public health system into a crisis,” Chang said.