BELMOPAN, Cayo District, Wed. Sept. 27, 2017–During today’s sitting of the Senate Select Committee, the Director of the Immigration Department, Diana Locke, made a very troubling confirmation.
She confirmed that there was an ongoing hustle at the Western Border Station.
In the hustle, Central Americans were told to pay border personnel up to BZ$120 to cross over into Belize, although the law makes no provision for this.
If those persons refused to pay, they would be denied entry into the country.
When Senator Mark Lizarraga asked Locke for further comment, she revealed that she had in fact received complaints of such hustling.
However, she never addressed the matter, as the complainant was unable to provide the name of the person who was subjected to this corrupt act.
According to Locke, she needed more information to take action.
She said, “That is very important; if I am to take any action, I need to have a name of that person who crossed the border. I don’t have to pass that information to my officers; I can verify that information myself.”
“If one Mark Lizarraga crossed the border and had that experience, if he comes in, provides his name, I can verify that he did cross the border at that day and time, and I am able to determine who was the officer that processed him to come into the country; we can work back from there,” she added.
According to Locke, while she could not take any action, she did speak to the officer in charge of the Western border station when she received the complaints.
“I spoke to the officer in charge of the border at that time and I said to him that these were consistent complaints that we were getting; we had heard those complaints from other persons before,” she said.
Locke claimed that the Officer in Charge assured her that there was no hustling taking place.
However, according to her, she recently learnt the contrary.
She said, “Recently, I was made privy to that fact there was something indeed happening; the Ministry of Tourism, which covers the border management, and the tourism officer at the border have since dismissed a couple of their workers, who they found to have been involved in what was happening there.”
According to Locke, she could not confirm if any Immigration officer was involved in the hustle, as she could not do a proper investigation, which first required that she get the names of the persons who had been forced to pay.
However, she suggested that a further review of footage might reveal otherwise.
“I don’t think any of those people indicated in their interviews whether or not an Immigration officer was involved, but I have been shown some footage which would need to be investigated further to see whether or not indeed an Immigration officer was involved in what was actually happening. But there was a process there where they were able to determine that some persons were collecting money,” she explained.
This isn’t the first report of shadiness at the western border.
Back in December of 2012 there was a case of theft involving an Immigration officer and 8 visas. Those visas were later bought by former Belize City deputy mayor, Eric Chang, and the Belize City Council financial controller, Patrick Tillett.
When word of this theft made it into the public arena, it later became the catalyst for a special audit of the entire Immigration Department.