Salvadoran got Belizean nationality in 1 day; Immigration Minister says “that happens all the time”
Within the last week, another can of worms has been opened with regards to the irregularities at the Immigration and Nationality Departments, as more evidence of apparent corruption in the issuance of nationality certificates has been unearthed.
Today, however, the substantive Minister of Immigration, Hon. Senator Godwin Hulse, told the media that it is nothing to be alarmed about.
Last Thursday, December 12, KREM News broke the story of a 24-year old Salvadoran national, Rafael Alexander Vasquez Medina, who was granted Belizean nationality under questionable circumstances, allegedly for a few hundred dollars.
Vasquez Medina got his nationality (allegedly by descent) processed in one day through the use of a forged Salvadoran birth certificate, and the legitimate birth certificate of an unsuspecting Belizean woman from Guinea Grass Village, who was said, on the Salvadoran birth certificate, to be his Belizean mother.
According to Vasquez Medina and his aunt, a woman approached them at the Michael Finnegan Market and enquired about the status of their “papers.” The aunt has Belizean nationality, but Vasquez Medina didn’t. The woman offered to help, and she is reported to have secured the birth certificate of the Belizean woman, and a forged Salvadoran birth certificate which she attached to Vasquez Medina’s application.
In order to get nationality by descent, one’s mother or father has to be a Belizean, so the name of the Belizean woman was somehow inked on the Salvadoran birth paper, which Minister Hulse has said looked legitimate to Director of Immigration Maria Marin.
Hulse has said that Marin was well within her right to sign the Nationality Certificate, which she did on September 19 – the same day that Prime Minister Dean Barrow ousted Minister of State for Immigration Elvin Penner from Cabinet, which marked the beginning of the infamous “Penner Passport Scandal.”
Vasquez Medina said that when the woman presented the Nationality Certificate to him, she told him he could go ahead and get his social security card. It was when he appeared at Social Security Board’s Belize City office that things began to unravel for him.
Vasquez Medina had previously gotten a social security card on the strength of a work permit using his legitimate Salvadoran birth paper. When he tried to get the new social security card using the Belizean Nationality Certificate, an alert clerk noticed that the name of his mother on the Nationality Certificate was different from what SSB had in their system, and police were called in.
Vasquez Medina was detained by police on December 5, 2013, because of a false document in his possession.
The subsequent investigation has exposed what seems to be a systematic scam implicating insiders in the Vital Statistics Unit, and likely, the Nationality Section of the Immigration Department. Quite remarkably, the documents for Vasquez Medina were processed in just one a day.
After he was thought to be evading the media for some time, today reporters finally caught up with Immigration Minister Godwin Hulse, who spoke about the curious case of Rafael Alexander Vasquez Medina, who received a nationality by descent certificate, even though neither of his parents are Belizean. As we said, Medina is facing charges of forgery, and Hulse said that those types of incidents are hard to prevent.
While we have been told that the process normally lasts three weeks, Hulse – who got into yet another heated exchange with reporters – today said that it is quite normal for an applicant to get such documents in one day.
Hulse contended: “As I see it and understand it, his mother’s birth certificate that he brought was legit. She was investigated, yes, born in Belize. His birth certificate was legit. It had its necessary certifications. He signed the application form, and everything. It turned out they caught him, and in that case, you may catch many more.”
Hulse commented that he was not concerned about the fact that the entire process was done in one week, during which the application was sent in to the Nationality department and then later processed in one day. He responded by saying, “That happens all the time. Its descent, you know, it’s not registration. It’s descent.”
He then classified the Vasquez Medina incident as “just a good case of forgery,” because his documents looked “authentic enough with the necessary stamps [and] the necessary certification”, and he further added that “I am not here to tell you many of that [bogus nationalities] don’t exist out there. Many may have existed out there, because it’s an easy thing to do with the birth certificates. We don’t have any means in that [Registry] Department; for years again – this one goes back longer than Immigration – in ensuring that that piece of paper you get from the Registry is who that person is.”
Hulse said that the National Scrutinizing Committee will look at all future applications and the recipients will be published in the Government Gazette, so people would be able to say if someone’s mother is not their real mother. He stated, “We will put it before a committee which will say, this is okay, and publish it. That’s what we’ll do. It’s registration. It’s not the birth certificate; it’s by registration. So, everything that is by registration – that you obtain nationality by registration – will go to the committee, will go to the Gazette, will go!”
He stressed that the glitch slipped past the Director of Immigration Marin, who did the signing on behalf of the substantive Minister of Immigration, because “that is the system”, and therefore he said, “This is the system, we’re changing this. We’ve been working feverishly to bring us up-to-date, man. I am only Godwin; not God.”
Vasquez Medina himself, in an interview with KREM News and Amandala last Friday, December 13, said that he did not go into the Immigration Department to apply for the Nationality certificate, and that it was a female Hispanic “facilitator” who did so after he paid her $500. The nationality certificate avers that Vasquez Medina’s mother is the Belizean Roberta Medina, a woman whom he said he doesn’t know.
One week after, the facilitator delivered Medina’s nationality certificate to him. It seemed valid, except for Roberta Medina being listed as the mother. Vasquez-Medina said that when he queried the name, he was told that it didn’t matter; he was now a Belizean.
But Minister Hulse vigorously disputed that assertion, and argued that he (Vasquez Medina) did go in. Hulse declared, “That’s what he [Vasquez Medina] is saying. The application form and so on doesn’t show that. They show his clear signature, his clear receipt, and his clear application to the department.”
When pressed by reporters today to show proof, Hulse then said that the Ministry of Immigration is willing to show the media Vasquez Medina’s file. He said, “Give us a break; we can allow you [the media] to see it. We could show you the application. The police have it; as soon as we get it back from them, we’ll give it to you. You have my word. I’ll give it to you; his application form, his receipt and everything else. There is nothing there to hide.”
What Senator Hulse does not dispute is that the application for Vasquez Medina included the legitimate Belize birth paper of a Guinea Grass woman, and a faulty Salvadoran birth paper that listed the Belizean woman as Vasquez Medina’s mother. We also understand that the space in which the recipient was supposed to sign for the receipt was left blank; therefore, that would mean that the original certificate got out of the Nationality section of the Immigration and Nationality Department without anyone actually signing for it.
Also, what Hulse did not explain, is how the facilitator was able to retrieve the birth paper of an unsuspecting Belizean woman, presumably from the Vital Statistics Unit in Belize City — which leads to larger questions, such as, how many of these bogus birth and nationality certificates have slipped through the cracks, and what system is in place to identify bogus nationality certificates and rescind them.
In relation to that quandary, Hulse said, “Minister Elrington has assured me that he is on that area, and that he is trying to implement some systems there to tighten up that as well. But, as I said – porous indeed – but bear in mind that when we publish, that is another layer in the system. When we publish, then people out there who know should inform us; that is why the publication.”
Yesterday, police finally released a report on the details of the incident, only saying that a Social Security clerk noted a disparity in Medina’s name when he went to apply for a new Social Security card, and that the initial investigations revealed that the documents used to obtain the nationality certificate were not genuine, specifically the birth certificate which claimed that Rafael Alexander Vasquez Sanchez was the child of a Belizean mother.
There is no reference to any investigation into how the fake documents which resulted in a Belizean nationality document were produced.
According to police, on a previous occasion the applicant had gotten his social security card under the name Rafael Alexander Vasquez Sanchez. In the application for a new social security card, he was stating his name as Rafael Alexander Vasquez Medina. For that reason, police say Medina was charged for the possession of false documents and uttering upon a false document.
The police release also noted that the case was forwarded to the Immigration Department, who will also charge Vasquez Medina for Immigration offences, as his legal status in Belize expired on September 30, 2013.
On Thursday, December 5, Vasquez Medina was arraigned in Belize City, and was offered and met bail of $5,000 and a surety of the same amount. His case was adjourned until March 3, 2014.
Last Friday, December 13, Minister Hulse had confirmed that Vasquez Medina’s nationality will be rescinded; however, Vasquez Medina’s family maintained that he did nothing wrong.
As for the role of Immigration Director Maria Marin, Hulse said that the file had the requisite documentation, that the Salvador birth certificate appeared to be a certified copy, and that the Director was both authorized and right to sign on it.