Castellanos Speaks of Irregularities at Immigration

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Updated: February 16, 2017

Yesterday, the former finance officer in the Immigration Department Teresita Castellanos made a damning statement expressing her frustration at the corrupt system that plagues the immigration department. During her three year period that Castellanos was at the Immigration Department, she observed irregular practices and along with former Acting Director, Maria Marin, made recommendations to put a stop to these malpractices.

TERESITA CASTELLANOS

“The resistance was there to not follow the regulations. So we found that when those visas went missing and we were being told about those visas being missing, we had to put something to further strengthen so that it would not occur again. I have a list here and I will read some of the things we had in place to improve the department and this I am happy to say was done after February 2013 when Ms.Maria Marin took over the department, before that it was difficult and I will get into that because we didn’t have support from the then director before Ms.Marin.”

MARK LIZARRAGA

“Just for clarity these things were identified before but you had difficulty implementing them prior to Mrs.Marin.”

TERESITA CASTELLANOS

“Yes and this was done to curb the noncompliance, abuses, frauds and to introduce accountability and transparency at the department.”

MARK LIZARRAGA

“Fraud, you said fraud?”

TERESITA CASTELLANOS

“At the department? Transparency….”

MARK LIZARRAGA

“And you would know what fraud means because you are the officer….”

TERESITA CASTELLANOS

“Oh yes yes.”

ALDO SALAZAR

“What are the things that you and Ms.Marin were trying to curb?”

TERESITA CASTELLANOS

“As I mentioned the new requirements for the issuances for blank visas and stickers on the first of March 2013 the memo. New requirements for the issuance of blank passports, this was done in September 2013. She was behind us the FO the AO to do district surprise checks, surprise because we reach at the stations and we start checking.”

ALDO SALAZAR

“So new recommendations for the issuances of visas, and blank passports, surprise checks what else?”

TERESITA CASTELLANOS

“In 2013 the passports that were being ordered in 2013 the security features were enhanced so the order that we received in 2013 had new security features. Memos were sent to the OICs advising the staff that they were not allowed to pay for passports and other fees on behalf of the public as per financial order number 79 because the office in Belmopan had a tendency to go into the cashier and pay for visas that had nothing to do with them but they were the ones that went directly to the cashier and paid the fees, took the receipts back to the passport office, this was wrong.”

According to Castellanos, the proposed recommendations they were attempting to implement was not supported by the Ministry nor the CEO, Candelaria Saldivar Morter, who Castellanos said, had her “thrown” out of the department.

TERESITA CASTELLANOS

“The restructuring that was mentioned by the CEO last week it could have already been implemented I don’t know what is the keep back but yes the concept was good, I know that I left the department, I was thrown out of the department because we normally are transferable but the same CEO who sat here had me moved from the department in 2014; it was not a regular transfer for whatever personal reason she had. I was part of the restructuring, I wrote.”

ALDO SALAZAR

“If you are going to cast blame on people to be clear on who it was because who was it? Who are you referring to when you say the same CEO.”

TERESITA CASTELLANOS

“CEO Candelaria Saldivar Morter and I wanted to remain at the department because there were restructurings taking place, we were meeting and she mentioned that I was part of the team and this was when I was transferred whilst the auditing was taking place. I even wrote to the Public Service Commission, copied it to our Public Service Union that I wanted to remain at least at least until the audit was over so that I could be the person that handed over whatever documents that were needed at the time but I was transferred, the first letter of transfer was in January 2014;we put up a fight the director and even Minister Hulse because we were active in that same restructuring team, a second letter came in February or March and I put up a real fight to be put at the department for different reasons but I was transferred in June of 2014 I was taken out. But I am bringing that back because the CEO said that I was part of the restructuring team and based on that I wrote that I did not agree with the transfer at the time but the transfer still went through.”

The reason why Castellanos decided to speak out yesterday during the senate hearing was because, she says, they were being blocked.

TERESITA CASTELLANOS

“I have been in the public service for 30 years. In 2011 it was the first time that I went to the immigration department but as a public officer outside of the department I used to hear things but nothing compared to when I was there I witnessed things myself. Certain things and we could not talk, I could not go to the Ministry Public Service. It was like we were blocked, we could not go to the media we could not talk and all of that frustration just consumed us inside, the director Ms.Maria Marin wanted to make a difference at that department and it was blocked many times. Even the policies that she spent hours preparing, it reached the ministry but that was about it.”

ALDO SALAZAR

“In order to be progressive I understand all the criticisms that you’ve brought forward and you feel very passionate about and Ms.Marin likewise I think expressed a desire to change that culture that has infested the department, how do you think we can start to fix that culture?””

TERESITA CASTELLANOS

“That culture only way it can be stopped or most of the areas it has to be from the policy makers and recommendations were made by the then acting director that either fell on deaf areas or it was blocked for whatever reason because she wanted more transparency and it was blocked or held either at the Ministry or over them and the changes have to come, it has to be a political will of those in government be it red or blue otherwise it will continue, I’m being honest with you it will continue until something is done from the top and policies are put in place.”