BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Jan. 19, 2017–Former Immigration Director, Ruth Meighan, was named in the Auditor General’s Special Audit into the Passport, Visa and Nationality Department after it was revealed that she had approved 12 of 15 applications for permanent residency even though the applicants did not meet legal requirements.
Those persons were approved for permanent residency status in Belize even though it had been less than a year since they were issued their visas.
In one shocking case, an individual was granted permanent residency in Belize only eighteen days after being issued a visa.
When she was questioned at Wednesday’s Senate hearing, Meighan claimed that she simply did not see the visas when she was approving applications.
12 of 15 permanent residency applications approved even though the applicants did not meet legal requirements
“The application for permanent residency comes in a file that has photocopied records of the applicant and on that file the indication from the officer says that the person has been living in Belize for the one-year period specified and within that you would have the passport of that individual with the stamp of entry and other permits that were issued and it’s based on that information that is presented; that is what we use to give approval,” she told the Senate Select Committee.
Chairman of the Senate Select Committee, Senator Aldo Salazar, explained, “What the Auditor General did was to compare the visa issuance records with the records for permanent residence, and then it revealed that there was not sufficient time for that person to have been in Belize.”
Meighan indicated that she didn’t have the visa issuance record; instead, she had the application file with a passport stamp indicating that the person had spent the required time in Belize.
Salazar asked, “The Auditor General is saying the persons could not have been here for a year. So the stamp would have had to have been a fraud?”
“Obviously,” responded Meighan.
Salazar remarked, “In my mind, I am thinking that based on the explanation that you have given as to what could have occurred, there must have been some activity happening with the stamp…I want to know where this stamp could have been introduced into this passport, into the record.”
Meighan quickly responded, “I have no idea.”
Senator Markhelm Lizarraga interjected, “We were told by your assistant at the time, Ms. Maria Marin, that she encountered a culture…she made reference to a scheme in the department…were you aware of these things…were you aware of a culture or a scheme that was going on in the department at that time?”
Meighan then commented, “There is a culture at the Immigration Department; I don’t know about a scheme because I practically gave approval to these things on the understanding that the information that was presented to me was accurate information, so all the approval that I gave was given on the information that was presented.”
In her presentation, Meighan maintained, that like her former assistant, Maria Marin, she returned files in instances where they were incomplete.
Yet it begs the question how 12 of 15 permanent residency applications easily slipped past the “due diligence” that Meighan said she exercised.
Meighan is scheduled to return to the next Senate hearing next Wednesday.