Probation for Cuban woman accused of immigration breach

MONTEGO BAY, St James — A 26-year-old Cuban woman accused of presenting forged documents in applying for an extension of stay in Jamaica for her British husband has been sentenced to probation.

Ariadna Perez Lopez was found guilty of two counts of uttering a forged document on September 29. The documents were a Cuban passport and an alien registration certificate. After a robust argument by defence attorney Michael Hemmings, presiding Judge Sasha-Marie Smith-Ashley handed down her sentence in the St James Parish Court on Monday.

The lawyer told the court that his client arrived in Jamaica on May 15, 2003 and, except for the matter in court, has kept out of trouble. He spoke of the glowing comments from residents of her community who described her as respectful and mannerly.

Hemmings also pointed out that Lopez had no previous convictions and since arriving in Jamaica at six years old she has lived a life that has been "impeccable and beyond approach".

He also argued that, even though Lopez was unaware that the documents were forged and was merely following her mother's advice on the application process, she had accepted responsibility and expressed remorse.

Hemmings also asked the court to look into the young woman's contribution to the country she now thinks of as home.

"She is an artiste and produced an EP. She is not a person who came to Jamaica and relies heavily on our resources or impacts the resources in any way, shape or form to say that her being in Jamaica for some 23 [sic] years impacts Jamaica negatively. She has contributed significantly. If one should look on her body of work as an artiste on YouTube, Spotify and iTunes, one would see that she is a reggae/dancehall artiste. Having been born in Cuba and arrived in Jamaica, she has adopted that genre of music and has extensively performed in hotels and put out bodies of her work on these platforms promoting our culture and not that of a Cuban status," he said.

Hemmings also stated that he has a letter from Cuban authorities indicating that Lopez's status in Cuba has been entirely relinquished and that she was no longer a citizen of that country. He explained that when she left Cuba on May 15, 2003, Cuba considered her to be an emigrant.

He asked the court to temper justice with mercy, be lenient, and grant his client the opportunity to regularise her status.

Judge Smith-Ashley stated that she would take into account Lopez's previous display of good character, adding that even though the defendant had put the court through a trial she had the right to do so.

The judge, however, noted that she does not understand how Lopez's mother's status has been regularised but the 26-year-old's had not. She questioned where the breakdown in the process had occurred.

She then sentenced Lopez to probation for one year on each count.

"There are lessons to be learnt from this…You have to be wise…You have an opportunity now to regularise yourself," Smith-Ashley said as Lopez stood in the dock, tears in her eyes and a relieved expression on her face.

Before allowing her to leave the courtroom, the judge reminded her that her mother and husband had been very supportive of her and wished her the best of luck in her endeavours.

According to the allegations presented to the court, on January 10 Lopez presented a Cuban passport and alien registration certificate to Passport, Immigration and Citizenship Agency in Montego Bay, St James, to regularise her husband's status and fraudulent stamps were discovered inside both documents.

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