By Ava Turnquest
A WOMAN who was honoured by The Queen for her humanitarian work used her Bahamas nursing home in a human smuggling operation.
Caregiver Irene Burrows, 66, was jailed for three years in the US yesterday after pleading guilty to smuggling migrants to the United States for private financial gain.
Loved ones now fear for the deteriorating health of cancer survivor Burrows, who admitted to involvement in an international smuggling ring, working with her daughter-ln-law Jessie Gonzales-Urquizo, 37, to bring illegal immigrants from Brazil to Florida.
Irene Mildred Janette Burrows, of Grand Bahama, confessed to using her care facility, ‘Burrows’ Home for the Aged’, to house Brazilian immigrants, some of whom she helped with obtaining fraudulent Bahamian immigration documents, and to accepting payment for the lodging and transportation as set out in the smuggling scheme.
Various hotels and “stash houses” were also used.
Undocumented migrants were charged between $100 and $125 per day as they waited in Freeport on a boat to take them to the US, according to the pair, who admitted to receiving instructions from Brazil-based smugglers.
The smuggling ring was said to have brought in nearly 100 illegal immigrants since 2008, according to US court documents obtained by The Tribune, however, Mrs Burrows told prosecutors her involvement began in mid-2011.
Following the interception of two Brazilian nationals who confessed to their participation in the scheme in February 2012, Mrs Burrows was arrested at the Fort Lauderdale International Airport on November 2.
She pleaded guilty in January to two criminal counts of bringing and attempting to bring aliens to the US for commercial advantage and private financial gain. Gonzales-Urquizo pleaded guilty to three criminal counts and was sentenced to five years.
Burrows, a member of the Freeport Garden Club, has received many accolades over the years for her social contributions through the nursing home, which was described as “a home away from home” in numerous reports.
In 2008, she received a commendation from The Queen, recognising her humanitarian services to the poor and elderly in the Bahamas.
In a bid for leniency during sentencing, her daughter Sabrina Edwards outlined her mother’s numerous health conditions that she felt would deteriorate at a faster pace during incarceration.
Describing her mother as an embattled matriarch who has always provided for her family in spite of health complications, Ms Edwards underscored Burrows’ selfless commitment to providing affordable care to the elderly less fortunate.
Ms Edwards wrote: “It has been almost six months since she has been incarcerated now and every time we go to visit we can see the quality of her health diminishing. She has already endured strokes while being held.”
After battling stomach cancer, which is now in remission, Mrs Burrows suffered adverse side effects from radiation treatment which Ms Edwards said “ate away” at the lining of her stomach.
Since then Mrs Burrows has suffered from routine attacks which severely affects her ability to eat, drink and perform basic motor functions, and also put her at a greater risk for heart attack or stroke.
In her appeal, Ms Edwards pointed out that while her mother committed an illegal deed, it was not without ethical merit as she was “just helping out stranded individuals”.
Ms Edwards said that her mother would not have gotten involved if she had been fully aware of the consequences.
She added: “Please give her a chance to live whatever time she has left in her homeland. She has had it rough in all areas of her life; and, finds happiness in her ability to help others.”
Both Mrs Burrows, a Bahamian citizen, and Gonzales-Urquizo, a Peruvian, will be deported after completing their prison terms.