Protecting our borders with decency
The Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) has been busy. Over 300 Haitians attempting to enter The Bahamas illegally were apprehended the past week, with almost 200 being captured the first five days of this year.
The latest apprehension occurred at 8 a.m. on Saturday in waters south of New Providence. Officers intercepted a 40-foot sloop with 108 Haitians on board.
Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and one of the poorest in the world. It has a tragic history.
It fought for its independence from France, becoming the first black republic. This was not accepted by the powers of the day out of fears that enslaved black populations elsewhere would adopt the Haitian revolutionary spirit.
Countries would not recognize a black-led Haiti. France forced ruinous reparations. The United States invaded and occupied Haiti multiple times in the 20th century. Homegrown dictators did their part too to pillage the country.
Haitians now flee to go wherever they can to find new lives, and hope. Thousands come to this country each year.
The Bahamas cannot have an open borders policy with Haiti. Its population is 11 million. Ours is 350,000.
We already have a chronic unemployment problem and inner-city dysfunction. Our unemployment rate has been in the double digits for a decade. Allowing thousands of poor, desperate people from any country to come here would only create more social pressure at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder.
Successive administrations have stayed with the same necessary policy: police the seas, apprehend and deport. And that is how it must be.
What is not necessary, though, is the demonization of peoples fleeing the worst circumstances.
The American president loves this approach. The peoples of Central America face violence at home comparable to war zones. Citizens of countries such as El Salvador and Honduras risk the perilous journey through Mexico – where rape, robbery, assault and murder are possible – to get to the United States to start better lives. They feel certain that if they stay, they and their families will be consumed by violence.
Donald Trump uses dehumanizing language to describe these desperate men and women, boys and girls, people we should empathize with. He has heightened America’s paranoia over the attempt of poor migrants to find hope. To him, they are a horde of undesirables.
The U.S. like The Bahamas must police its border. It has to regulate who comes and goes. But hate and dehumanization are not necessary in this process.
Like Trump toward Hispanics, many Bahamians harbor hate toward Haitians. They do not see the similarity in our circumstances – the common struggle for dignity and self-determination of majority populations of people of African descent. We are them just on a different island, formed by the same currents of slavery and colonialism.
Many of the Haitians who come here risk their lives because they feel the extreme poverty of their homeland would be a death sentence if they remained. Let’s remember that.
Haitians will continue to come here in large numbers on boats and by planes until the circumstances in Haiti improve noticeably. We must police the problem with decency in the interim. They are doing just what we would do if our country was in such a tragic state.