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May 13, 2020

Guillermo Foreman is Taken into Police Custody; Will He Be Charged?

Guillermo Foreman

At the northern border, a Belizean, who had been stranded there since last Friday, remains in a conundrum tonight.  Under the State of Emergency, Belizeans are being denied entry except those in special circumstances. Guillermo Foreman says he travelled from the U.S. and on reaching the northern border he was denied entry and was sleeping in his car. He made his plea public to the authorities saying he would willingly go on quarantine.  But he is now in police custody pending charges.  The question is, however, which offense will he be charged for? News Five’s Duane Moody has been following the story and has the following report.

 

Duane Moody, Reporting

There is mounting debate over the situation involving Belmopan resident, Guillermo Foreman, who has returned to Belize, but because of the Emergency Powers Regulations in place, he was being refused entry into the country.  On April third, following an amendment to Statutory Instrument number sixty-five, Prime Minister Dean Barrow made the pronouncement that all border entry points were closed off even to Belizeans.

 

Dean Barrow

Prime Minister Dean Barrow [File: April 3rd, 2020]

“As a consequence, and after obtaining the unanimous support of the National Oversight Committee, the Government of Belize has decided that our borders are now to be closed even to Belizeans seeking to enter the country.  Except in the case of those that are returning from travel for urgent medical attention or some other emergency purpose, no Belizean currently abroad can return to Belize.  This prohibition will, in the first instance, last for the duration of the State of Emergency.”

 

It was a bold move taken by the government to prevent the spread of the COVID-19; since at the time the number of cases in the first wave was spiking. Last Friday, Foreman arrived at the Santa Elena border after travelling for days from Texas. He checked out of Mexico and remained near the Chactemal Bridge, because he could not legally enter the country.

 

Guillermo Foreman, Detained by Police

“I deh yah from since Friday. I understand that the border is closed but I have been out here and nobody hardly looked after me. I noh really get any food. It is just food I had in my vehicle weh I eat.”

 

Five days later, Foreman is picked up by the police and taken into custody, where according to Commissioner of Police Chester Williams, he will be swabbed. If tested negative, he will be charged and taken to court. But what offense has he committed?

 

Gavin Courtenay, Attorney-at-law

“The Immigration Act says at section twenty-four that persons shall not enter Belize other than at an approved port or place of entry and that persons entered by land or air shall represent themselves to an immigration officer at their place of arrival. So on the face of it, it would seem that this is what this gentleman did so it would not necessarily, but then again this is just my view, doesn’t necessarily fall under the definition of illegal entry. My view is that it doesn’t meet the requirement of illegal entry because if you are a Belizean citizen, section five of the constitution says that you are always allowed to enter. So I don’t think that any immigration officer has a discretion to refuse you entry because the Immigration Act is not an act that is for the preservation of defense and public safety; that’s not what the Immigration Act talks about. So then we go back to the Emergency Powers Regulation under the statutory instrument. My question is what offense has been committed under that act. It has to be determined whether or not he has entered Belize illegally.”

 

Attorney Gavin Courtenay says that the Emergency Powers Regulation, as it currently stands at sections eighteen and nineteen, in his opinion, is not clear enough to determine whether in fact any law was broken.

 

Gavin Courtenay

Gavin Courtenay

“If regulation nineteen had said no Belizean shall enter any port of entry unless that person, then the situation will be clear. He would have committed an act. But it doesn’t say that. And if you got to eighteen, you have to define what is entering Belize illegally and that in my view can only be done in reference to the Immigration Act. The question is whether or not, once a person enters Belize because the borders are closed; are they committing an illegal offense? Because the gentleman presented himself at the border for an immigration office, he complied with the law under the immigration act.   Because the border is closed, whether or not that is an approved port of entry. The difficulty with that is that we know that there are exceptions. We know that the border is open for persons who need to come back for medical leave. We know that there have been certain exceptions made in the last month, for example for the repatriation of foreigners. So I don’t see the argument holding much water that the border is closed and therefore it is not an approved port of entry. But that’s just my view. Whether or not that would have to be determined under judicial scrutiny.”

 

The repatriation of Belizeans stuck overseas—be that students or those working in the cruise ship industry and others—is at this time being addressed by the National Oversight Committee and the Government.   On May eighth, Prime Minister Dean Barrow says that G.O.B. was ironing out the details.

 

Dean Barrow

Prime Minister Dean Barrow [File: May 8th, 2020]

“We must prepare for the return of those Belizeans that have been stranded abroad. Thus, we have already activated plans for their repatriation. They will, of course, have to go into quarantine. We wish to begin the process of letting our nationals back in as early as possible. It would clearly be before the mass marketing of satisfactory rapid tests. And that is why we will therefore have to carefully manage the flow of our returnees since we can’t handle the quarantining of excessively large numbers if everybody sought to come back at the same time.”

 

Duane Moody for News Five.


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