By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
A 26-year-old Haitian woman’s two-month prison sentence was increased to a year and coupled with a fine yesterday because she gave immigration officers a false name out of fear when they arrested her last week.
Senior Magistrate Carolyn Vogt-Evans sentenced Sainlouse Merite, aka Dieuna Francois, to a year in prison and fined her $1,000 for giving the latter name to officers when they picked her up on Faith Avenue on October 15.
Merite also faces an additional two months in prison if the fine is not paid, the magistrate ordered. She is ordered to be turned over to immigration officials upon completion of her sentence or payment of her fine.
Meanwhile, 14 Haitian migrants were were fined a collective $9,300 by Deputy Chief Magistrate Andrew Forbes for either sneaking into the country or overstaying their time.
And in default of their respective fines—as much as $2,000 in three cases — they must all serve a year in prison. They are ordered to be turned over to immigration officials and deported afterwards.
Merite, who celebrates her 27th birthday on Friday, was originally sentenced last week to just two months in prison on suspicion of sneaking into the country on a Haitian sloop in September.
She was was one of multiple Haitian migrants who received prison sentences from the magistrate for immigration offences because in in the court’s view, fining them only end up “making things worse”.
However, it was since revealed by a friend of Merite’s father that the Jean-Rebel native didn’t actually sneak into the country as she previously admitted to doing.
Merite in fact has a Haitian passport in her real name, and had received two extensions to remain in the country. However, when immigration officers breached the residence she was in, someone who stayed there told her to give the officers a false name.
Subsequent checks by immigration officers confirmed that the woman arrived in the country through the Lynden Pindling International Airport (LPIA) months prior on June 11.
She was granted a 21-day stay and later received an extension from July 3 to September 30. No other extensions were given to the defendant, meaning she overstayed by 15 days.
In sentencing Merite, Magistrate Vogt-Evans said she found the facts of the matter to be “extremely troubling”, because while Merite received “bad advice”, she still “had a choice”.
“The court must be cognizant of the immigration climate and increased influx (of illegal immigrants) and the burden it places on the country,” the magistrate said. “Persons must know that if they are untruthful to the Department of Immigration, it will not be tolerated. The sentence the court imposes hopefully sends a strong message that this conduct will not be tolerated.”
Six men—Richard James, Wisly Louima, Jerry Jean, Dougene Fortillen, Kedlet Augustine and Edward Fevrain — were each fined $300 or otherwise serve 12 months in prison for admitting to landing in the country illegally.
The six men, with the exception of Louima, had all conceded outright that they had no legal status to remain in the country. Louima indicated that he had made an application for a work permit in 2017, but it was refused.
They were each arrested by immigration officers in various areas in New Providence on Monday, ranging from Soldier Road to a boat moored at the Potter’s Cay Dock, during an apprehension exercise led by Chief Immigration Officer Harold Thurston.
Another five Haitian nationals—Dusmuene Finose, Mackendy Joseph, Rony Florestal, Rose Myriame Jean and Pierre Slime — were given the same penalty for sneaking into the country. All of them entered via Haitian sloop at different times between 2017 to this year.
Another three Haitian nationals, Junior Savari aka Nana John, Guthaud Juste, and Berlanda Saint Louis, were each fined $2,000 or otherwise serve a year in prison for overstaying.
While Saint Louis only overstayed by a day, thus prompting the prosecution to request that she merely be deported, Savari and Juste overstayed by 300 and 545 days respectively.
A Jamaican woman, Jacqueline Margaret, was fined $1,000 or otherwise serve six months in jail for overstaying by one month and six days. She was originally landed on June 2 for 14 days. Her last extension ended in September however.
Immigration officers Avia Beckford, Shandeshia Marshall, Lashandawn Adderley, and Frederick Smith prosecuted yesterday’s matters.