Venezuelan mother clear to challenge heliport’s use for holding illegal immigrants

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

The Chaguaramas Heliport. FILE PHOTO –

A Venezuelan mother who was detained with her son at the heliport in Chaguaramas for a year and a half will be allowed to pursue her judicial review claim against the Minister of National Security over the suitability of the Chaguararmas heliport as an immigration detention centre.

On June 11, Justice Margaret Mohammed gave the woman permission to pursue her lawsuit in the public interest.

In her lawsuit, the woman wants the court to declare the minister’s decision to designate the heliport as an immigration station as illegal. She also wants an order to quash that decision made on July 25, 2023, and an injunction to restrain the State from using the facility for that purpose.

The woman also wants a similar injunction to have the State remove everyone currently detained at the facility and put in a suitable place until the lawsuit is determined or released on orders of supervision.

The matter next comes up for a hearing on September 26.

In her ruling, Mohamed said the woman had demonstrated sufficient interest to pursue the claim given her detention and her son’s from December 2020 to July 2022.

She also pointed out that the mother had successfully pursued a habeas corpus application challenged by the State “all the way up to our final court, the Privy Council where she was vindicated.”

The judge also pointed out that the woman’s stated purpose for filing the claim was to hold the minister accountable to the fundamental principles set out in the Constitution.

“In my opinion, this is important in the vindication of the rule of law.”

Also important, the judge said was the challenge to the legality of the Executive’s actions in deeming the heliport an immigration station and its suitability, particularly for children.

“The orders sought are important as they concern the legality of the decision of the intended respondent to designate the heliport as an immigration station.

“It will call upon the intended respondent to set out the matters he took into account before he exercised his discretion to designate the heliport as an immigration station after the end of the covid19 pandemic. “This is important as the Immigration Act permits the intended respondent to detain persons prior to deportation…”

In her ruling, Mohammed also pointed to the conflicting evidence on the decision designation of the heliport as an immigration station. The heliport is under the control of the Defence Force.

“Indeed, given the evidence of Ms Persad filed in opposition to the application, the intended respondent has a duty to answer when the said decision was made as Ms Persad’s evidence that it was made on July 9, 2023, is inconsistent with the intended respondent’s letter, dated July 25, 2023, to the Air Vice Marshall Darryl Daniel.

“The intended respondent also has a duty given his power under the Immigration Act to set out the legal basis for the said decision”

She also held the lawsuit had a “realistic prospect of success” in proving that the minister did not consider several material factors which impacted the suitability of the heliport as an immigration station

before he made the decision.

In separate proceedings, Mohammed ordered the State to compensate the teenager $2.4 million after she signalled her disgust over his treatment.

The child, then 13 years old, and his mother were among a group of migrants detained when they returned to Trinidad three days after being deported to Venezuela in November 2020.

The minor, by his kin and mother, sued the State, seeking damages, aggravated and exemplary damages, including interest, for his unlawful detention at the Heliport, from December 15, 2020, to March 16, 2022.

The mother and son were the only people who were detained for the longest period at the heliport. The child was awarded compensation while the mother’s claim for false imprisonment is still pending.

In that 114-page landmark judgment, Mohammed expressed the court’s disapproval of the “egregious conduct”

The mother and son obtained three injunctions preventing their deportation until the determination of their case. In March 2022, the Privy Council found that the minor’s detention was unlawful, as there was no deportation or detention order issued in his name. The Privy Council remitted the issue to the court, which had ordered their release on July 29, 2022.

In her criticisms, the judge said the State knew from the design stage of the heliport and throughout the boy’s detention that the Heliport was not suitable to detain any minor. She added that they were aware of their unlawful actions but chose to continuously and systematically ignore any recommendations to improve the conditions for the child during his detention. She said the defendants abused their power by ignoring the recommendations of Dr Dowlat, the assistant Chief Staff Medical Commander of the Defence Force.

In the boy’s case, Mohammed said this caused suffering and harm to the teenager, as he was a migrant child. The judge added that the defendants had the opportunity on two occasions to mitigate the harm being caused to the child by not opposing his release from detention, but chose not to.

She said, “In my opinion, this conduct by the defendants is shocking and deplorable and cannot be condoned by this court.”

The judge noted that another reason for the significant award was that the defendants unlawfully detained the child for 456 days, violating his right to liberty and to family life.

The judge added that the child’s exposure to explicit sexual acts during his detention also violated his innocence as a minor and corrupted his adolescence. The judge said the defendants “exploited the tremendous imbalance of power between them and the claimant” by keeping him in conditions which they always knew were unsuitable and which violated his rights as a minor.

In her ruling on June 11, Mohammed said the woman “ stated that there are 16,000 registered migrants with the amnesty granted by the government of Trinidad and Tobago in 2019 and that if a decision is

made at any time not to continue with the amnesty those persons run the risks of being detained at the Heliport and being subjected to the conditions there.”

She also said the woman had demonstrated a real interest in seeking the protection of persons, including her own family.

“(She) has witnessed the negative effects the conditions at the Heliport had on her and her son and the resulting effects thereafter.

“She has also stated that she does not wish anyone to have the same experience she and her son endured during their detention at the heliport.”

The woman is represented by Gerald Ramdeen, Dayadai Harripaul, Nerissa Bala and Darryl Heeralal. Attorneys Gregory Delzin, Stefan Jaikaran, Niquelle Nelson Granville, Aryanta Williams, Felisha Villaruel, Laura Persad, Akeenie Murray and Murvani Ojah Maharaj represented the minister.