Published On: Thu, Feb 8th, 2024

Court orders release of undocumented person in landmark decision

PHILIPSBURG — In a significant ruling on February 1, 2024, the Court of First Instance of Sint Maarten ordered the immediate release of Mr. R.J., a Haitian national residing in St. Maarten, marking a pivotal moment in the country’s legal history regarding alien detention and removal orders.

R.J. who had been residing unlawfully in St. Maarten since his visa expired in August 2022, was detained on January 3, 2024, by the Minister of Justice of St. Maarten, deeming him an undesirable alien and initiating removal proceedings. This decision was challenged in court by his attorney Mr Remco Stomp,, citing the Administrative Law Ordinance and arguing the detention and removal orders’ legality.

The court found the stop and subsequent detention of R.J. during a routine control in Philipsburg to be unlawful, criticizing the lack of clear basis for the control. The decision noted that the official report failed to justify the stop adequately, and the explanations provided at the hearing did not rectify this defect. This ruling emphasized the importance of lawful procedures in the enforcement of immigration control, highlighting concerns over potential discrimination based on physical characteristics, commonly known as ethnic profiling.

The judge, presiding over the case, ordered not only R.J.’s release but also the suspension of the removal order pending an appeal. This decision underscores the judiciary’s commitment to ensuring that enforcement actions are grounded in clear legal standards and respect for individual rights.

Furthermore, the court ordered the respondent to cover the legal costs of the proceedings, reinforcing the principle that unlawful detentions have financial and reputational consequences for the enforcing bodies.

This landmark ruling raises critical questions about the procedures employed by border control and immigration authorities in St. Maarten, calling for a reevaluation of practices to prevent future instances of unlawful detentions.

Attorney Remco Stomp, who represented R.J. in court, stated the following pertaining to the legal relevance of the court’s decision: “The situation with this individual being stopped and detained without a good reason shows why it’s important for government actions to be fair and follow the law. The court’s decision to call this out shows that the court is serious about making sure government actions are done the right way, according to the law. Law enforcement officials must adhere to rules and regulations which stipulate that, in case of an arrest, they must properly explain why a certain individual is being stopped. Their actions need to be based on clear and fair legal reasons, to avoid unfair treatment. The law says that people cannot be randomly stopped and arrested based, for example, on how they look.
This decision is also important because it shows that even people who are not legally in a country have rights that need to be protected. The court is trying to find a fair balance between following immigration laws and protecting individual rights, which is becoming more important as people move around the world more.