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Crazy law. 1945 act could bar deaf, blind, mentally ill from entering Jamaica

Published:Monday | October 20, 2014 | 12:00 AM

People living with disabilities could find themselves barred from entering Jamaica if immigration officials strictly enforce a 1945 law which lists people who are "deaf and dumb or deaf and blind, or dumb and blind" as prohibited immigrants.

The law - the Immigration Registration (Commonwealth Citizens) Act - was used last week by the Government to impose a travel ban against persons travelling directly or indirectly from or through Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, in light of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

In addition to listing any person certified by a health officer to be suffering from a communicable disease, which makes his entry into the island dangerous to the community, as a prohibited immigrant, the law places restriction on disabled persons travelling to the island.

Under the law, a person classified as a prohibited immigrant is "any idiot or epileptic or any person who is insane or mentally deficient or any person who is deaf and dumb or deaf and blind, or dumb and blind, unless in any such case he or a person accompanying him in any such case he or a person accompanying him or some other person gives security to the satisfaction of the chief immigration officer for his permanent support in the island or for his removal therefrom whenever required by the chief immigration officer".

Senator Floyd Morris, an advocate for the community of persons living with disabilities, told The Gleaner that having now been made aware of the provision in the law, he intended to have discussions with Justice Minister Mark Golding and National Security Minister Peter Bunting on the matter.

"A law like that would have to be amended to reflect current thinking, because it is antiquated in terms of that particular provision," Morris said.

The government senator, who is the first blind person to be elevated to presidency of the Upper House of Parliament, pointed to the recent passage of the Disabilities Act in Parliament as evidence that the State has been working to ensure greater inclusion for persons with disabilities. He said the provisions in the Immigration Registration (Commonwealth Citizens) Act fly in the face of the new law.

"What we are doing is to bring laws up to date with current thinking of persons with disabilities," Morris said.

He told The Gleaner he was not aware of the law being used against persons with disabilities, though he wished it was no longer on the books.

"I know people with disabilities have had challenges at the airport in terms of relating to the security searches that they have had to undergo, but that is not in relation to the particular legislation. It has to do with how the security persons themselves operate and how they treat persons with disabilities," Morris said.

Maureen Webber, the parent of a child with an intellectual disability, said the provision in the Immigration Registration Act "brings home even more clearly the need for an overhaul of the relevant acts if we are truly committed to the inclusion of persons with disabilities".

She noted that when she last commented on the Disabilities Bill, which is now an act, "I did say that it was too early to celebrate."

"Some may have thought that I was being ungrateful. No, I just wanted our community to understand that there is much more work to be done. Many elements impact on the quality of our lives."

Webber, meanwhile, said that having been contacted by The Gleaner about the provision, she reached out to Dr Leahcim Semaj, board chair for the Passport, Immigration and Citizenship Agency, "and within minutes he was able to console me, as the CEO for PICA was able to advise, that there is in fact a draft to amend this section and it is now awaiting review by Cabinet".

Yesterday, Justice Minister Mark Golding said the provision, which seemed to date from 1945, was probably unconstitutional.

"I doubt that it is being enforced, as it is so out of whack with 21st-century values which recognise the rights of disabled persons, which are based on equality and empowerment," Golding said.

"A review of the immigration legislation is timely, to identify, remove or modernise any provisions which have become out of date or otherwise inappropriate."

He said he would be discussing the matter with National Security Minister Peter Bunting, whose portfolio includes immigration matters.