Senate Select Committee grills former Immigration Director

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Updated: January 18, 2017

Ruth Meighan was the Chief Elections Officer before being appointed to the post of Director of Immigration. She served as Immigration Director from October 2010 to February 2013. After the Elvin Penner immigration scandal came to light, Meighan attempted to travel to the US but was denied entry. It was later revealed that her visa had been revoked but Meighan declined having any knowledge of this and no official explanation was given. Today Meighan was called before the Senate Special Select Committee in Belmopan where the committee interrogated her on several questionable choices. Meighan was questioned about passports approved for foreigners who had applied for permanent residency. One of the requirements to obtain permanent residence is to be living in Belize for no less than a year.  However the Auditor General revealed that a list of 15 foreigners received a passport without meeting the requirements. In fact as highlighted by Senator Dr. Carla Barnett, one individual received a Belizean passport and was approved for permanent residency in the same day.

Senator Aldo Salazar

“And if you look at the fifth column itself, accepted by Ms. Pacheco, approved by Ms. Ruth Meighan; second accepted by Ms. Pacheco approved by Ruth Meighan; third approved by Ms. Ruth Meighan; fourth approved by Ms. Ruth Meighan; fifth approved by Ms. Ruth Meighan; sixth approved by Ms. Ruth Meighan, eighth approved by Ms. Ruth Meighan, nine approved by you as well, ten approved by you as well, thirteen, fourteen and fifteen. Can you give us any insight as to how you would have come to approve the granting of permanent residency status to an individual who had not been in Belize for a period of one year at least?”

Ruth Meighan – Former Immigration Director

“The application for permanent residency comes in a file that has photocopy 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 as specified and within that you would have the passport of that individual with the stamp of entry and other permits that were issued and based on that information that is presented that is what we use to give approval.”

Senator Aldo Salazar

“So you’re saying, well what the auditor general did I’m assuming, I’m assuming that what the auditor general did was to compare the visa issuance records with the records for permanent residence and then it revealed that there wasn’t sufficient time for that person to have lived in Belize.”

Ruth Meighan – Former Immigration Director

“Well what I had was not the visa issuance record. What I had was an application file with a passport, completely photocopied, with the pages indicated on the file saying,Ruth Meighan entered on this date, has sometimes work permit stamps in there and based on that it shows over a period of time to the person has been living in Belize.”

Senator Aldo Salazar

“So you’re saying is that you would’ve seen a passport with a stamp indicating that the person was in Belize for a period in excess of a year; even while the auditor general is saying that the person could not have been here for a year so the stamp would’ve had to be a forgery, a fraud?

Ruth Meighan – Former Immigration Director

“Obviously.”

 Dr. Carla Barnett – Senator

“That very first one listed there has the visa number 25636 approved on 9 November and then the permanent residency number 43608 on the same day so who approved either of those, this one says that you approved the visa application but where would be approval for the permanent residency come from who would’ve approved that.

Ruth Meighan – Former Immigration Director

“It could have been either myself or the deputy but it doesn’t stay here which one of us had done it but the point I’m making is that even though…

Senator Aldo Salazar

“Stick a pin in there that’s why in the inception I asked whether what your duties were and you specifically said that you were the person who approved permanent residence.”

Ruth Meighan – Former Immigration Director

“Yes both myself and the deputy when I was not in or at times I wouldn’t say all the time there are some times when she would’ve been required to assist with the processing of visas and other things.

Dr. Carla Barnett – Senator

“I just wanted to say because I don’t have an explanation that adds up to how you can have on the same day the visa being approved through a process that would require the director or the deputy being involved in both processes.  It is the same person the visa for entry is being approved on the same day that the permanent residency is being approved so I don’t know how you would explain that, so I was asking for your explanation.

Ruth Meighan – Former Immigration Director

“My only response to that is that what I have in front of me when I’m improving permanent residency is a photocopy of a passport that gives me information to tell me that a person has been living in Belize for more than a year and unfortunately I really don’t have the visa information in front of me for me to do any kind of comparative thing with respect to a picture of the person or information other than what is presented because that is a process we follow.  The officer brings it to me and then based on a recommendation from the officer that is the basis upon which the approval is given.”

As you heard, Meighan believed that the stamp that accompanied the permanent residency application was a forgery. So the Senators questioned Meighan whether or not she knew of a scheme going on in the Immigration Department.

Senator Mark Lizzaraga

“Were you aware of these things? This culture of not filling in forms properly even though you said that all these is that you approved and all the applications; the question is were you aware of a culture or scheme that was going on in the department at that time?

Ruth Meighan – Former Immigration Director

“Uhm, there is a culture at the immigration department and I think, I don’t know about a scheme because I practically gave approval to these things on the understanding that the information that was being presented to me were accurate information so all the approvals that I gave was given on information that was presented.

Senator Mark Lizzaraga

“What culture did you mean?”

Ruth Meighan – Former Immigration Director

“The culture of the department in terms of the processing, when I went into the immigration Department what we did was to try to develop some policies and procedures for the processing of applications.  So we had along with the deputy and some of the senior officers developed some policies that we could be guided by because it was not a part of what was already in existence and so some of these things that came into effect came in after ,even though we did not complete it before I left there but basically it’s just like you said, there were applications accepted by clerks who probably just accepted applications and then it has to go through that entire process of vetting and sending back and putting it forward. The department continued to run the same way, even with recommendation for changes.

Senator Mark Lizzaraga

“But of course you and your assistant who at the time was Ms. Marin would never approve something that was not complete.

Ruth Meighan – Former Immigration Director

As far as I am aware all applications had to have all the relevant information for me to approve.”

Senator Mark Lizzaraga

“Then again, one wonders if that was the way you operated and Ms. Marin operated as well, how come the Auditor General was able to identify in so many instances persons that received their visa and shortly after that proceeded to get nationality and then of course they would get a passport issued based on the strength of the nationality certificate. One wonders why were there so many instances identified that these things were issued outside of the scope of the law in such short periods of time. For example one of the ones I was going to highlight was that this person received a visa and permanent residency in one day and you are the person to have signed the visa approval and also the permanent residency, so how could that happen?

Ruth Meighan – Former Immigration Director

“I don’t know if I was the person who signed the permanent residency,but I was the person who signed the visa.

Senator Mark Lizzaraga

“ I see, but you stated that you would be the one to sign the permanent residency too right?

Ruth Meighan – Former Immigration Director

“Yes along with the deputy could also have given approval for permanent residency.

Senator Mark Lizzaraga

“Your deputy being Ms. Marin, but neither you nor she would ever approve something that is not complete.

Ruth Meighan – Former Immigration Director

“If it doesn’t show that it is complete no we wouldn’t have.

Senator Mark Lizzaraga

“Who stamps and signs the approval?

Ruth Meighan – Former Immigration Director

“The officer in charge that put the visa foil in the passport.”

Senator Mark Lizzaraga

“So you would only sign on the file and say “I authorize the issuance of the visa” but you wouldn’t necessarily see what they stamped in the passport?”

Ruth Meighan – Former Immigration Director

“No.”

Senator Mark Lizzaraga

“I see, and you didn’t see it fit at the time, being the director to request proof or evidence of the approval, you didn’t say as part of the process show me when I approved this person to come and get a visa?

Ruth Meighan – Former Immigration Director

“No, I couldn’t imagine in my wildest dream that this was happening.

Senator Mark Lizzaraga

“You were never aware that there was a scheme?

Ruth Meighan – Former Immigration Director

“Not like this, I’m sorry, this is, I didn’t know that this was happening.”

Senator Elena Smith

“At number 15 Ms. Meighan, on page 8,I see a notation under permanent residency there where it says backdated to 27th July, 2012 her old permanent residency number was stated in the numbers book as 3297/86 the same year she was born. I’m trying to figure out what that is telling me, do you have any idea?

Ruth Meighan – Former Immigration Director

“I don’t know what that is.

Senator Elena Smith

“Because I’m just noting here, I know that you said that yes you approved the visa because it is stated here but you are not sure if you were the one who approved the permanent residency, would there be a reason for a backdating?

Ruth Meighan – Former Immigration Director

“No, I don’t know what that is about and I don’t see why we would have backdated. I don’t know what that is.”

Senator Elena Smith

“So this is not something that would be…

 

Ruth Meighan – Former Immigration Director

“No I’m not aware of that.”

At the beginning of the session Meighan told the committee that her involvement in passport and visa approvals was limited.

Senator Aldo Salazar

“What had to come for you for approval as it related to passports, visas or nationality?

Ruth Meighan – Former Immigration Director

For approval, visas.

Senator Aldo Salazar

“All visas?

Ruth Meighan – Former Immigration Director

“Most visas that needed to get the clearance from the director.

Senator Aldo Salazar

“Which were?

Ruth Meighan – Former Immigration Director

“I can’t remember all, but you have some countries that required further vetting and those had to get clearance from my desk, but other visas could have been issued at the border stations or at our embassies abroad depending on the nationalities.

Senator Aldo Salazar

“So in relation to visas, some of them which involved certain countries had to get clearance specifically from you?

Ruth Meighan – Former Immigration Director

“From my office, yes.

Senator Aldo Salazar

“Because when you say “my office” it seems as if somebody in your office was also authorized to do so, I just want to clarify that .

Ruth Meighan – Former Immigration Director

“In my absence, the deputy could have also given approval.

Senator Aldo Salazar

“Apart from that, these countries would require your approval?

Ruth Meighan – Former Immigration Director

“Yes.

Senator Aldo Salazar

“What about as it related to passports? At what point would any passport application have to get approval of the director during your tenure?

Ruth Meighan – Former Immigration Director

“There was no point when the passport had to get direct approval from me, as a matter of fact, my involvement with the processing of passports was very limited except, and it’s something that I had met there, where there were requests for emergency passports and the officer in charge thought it necessary for them to refer the person to me, then I would then maybe take some decision on an application for a passport; for emergencies only.

Chairman Senator Aldo Salazar questioned Meighan about the process for obtaining nationality.

Ruth Meighan – Former Immigration Director

“The process was with an application and a recommendation from the officers that all the set requirements were met, I make recommendation to the minister as the director and the minister approves.

 Senator Aldo Salazar

“So is it safe to say that nationality requires ministerial approval?

Ruth Meighan – Former Immigration Director

“Yes, subject to the recommendation of the director.

Senator Aldo Salazar

“The recommendation of the director is not absolutely necessary?”

Ruth Meighan – Former Immigration Director

“When I was there I think that it was, I haven’t…

Senator Aldo Salazar

“When you were there,  if you didn’t recommend would it…

Ruth Meighan – Former Immigration Director

“I don’t think so, I don’t think so.

Senator Aldo Salazar

“So nationality would have had to pass through your desk?

Ruth Meighan – Former Immigration Director

“Yes.”

Ruth Meighan is now the Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Transport and NEMO. Meighan’s interrogation continues next Wednesday.