With his government’s popularity in decline amid strained resources, a weak record and a waning term in office, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis used his contribution to the mid-year budget debate on Monday to stoke xenophobic fears among a population that is rightfully concerned about a persistent illegal immigration problem.
But what we need are sensible policies and execution of the same, not more political rhetoric seemingly designed to shore up a faltering government.
Minnis declared, “Our social services can take no more. Our health system can take no more.”
He added, “Mr. Speaker, I remember while working as a physician in the Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH) in charge of senior personnel of obstetrics and gynaecology, it was not unusual, which was very frustrating to the staff and demoralizing, it was not unusual with 10 deliveries within our wards, nine were to illegals and one was a Bahamian.”
Minnis would be hard pressed, however, to table data showing that 90 percent of babies being born in PMH are to “illegals”.
In fact, when he was minister of health back in 2011, Minnis told us that after he had checked the figures, he could report that of the 5,000 babies who are born at PMH every year, about 600 are born to Haitian women — that’s 12 percent.
Minnis rightfully pointed out that Bahamians have a role to play in the fight against illegal immigration, including not hiring illegal immigrants.
He said we do not want to be in a situation like the Turks and Caicos Islands where he claimed illegal immigrants now outnumber the residents — a fact that is not proven.
According to the prime minister, “Residents in Turks are so fed up that they themselves are capturing the illegals, tying them up and taking them to the authorities and requesting they be deported.”
While the prime minister said he does not want us to reach to that point, between the lines, it felt like he was giving Bahamians an idea on how to handle the problem.
Bizarrely, he also had a message for the courts.
“I ask the courts to work with us,” Minnis said. “Let’s solve our problems, because today it’s me, and tomorrow it’s you. Soon, they will build a court next to the Supreme Court, and what do we do? Leave it alone?”
It was the prime minister’s way of urging the court to lift a 2018 injunction blocking the demolition of shantytown structures.
Minnis also declared it is time for Bahamians to “take our country back”.
In the same contribution, he said Bahamians “can no longer be second class citizens in The Bahamas”, and also that “Bahamians are first, and Bahamians will and must remain first”.
The prime minister once again promised strong action on immigration — this time announcing that he has authorized a “strike force” to root out illegal immigrants in our midst.
This is not the first time Minnis has promised aggressive action on illegal immigration.
Speaking in the House of Assembly in October 2017, he warned all illegal immigrants in The Bahamas that they had until December 31 to leave the country, after which they would be “aggressively pursued and deported”.
“Those Bahamians and residents who employ illegal migrants have until December 31, 2017 to regularize these individuals or stop employing them,” he said.
The deadline passed with no apparent change in the authorities’ approach to illegal immigration.
Minnis warned Bahamians who hire illegal immigrants that they would be dealt with to the fullest extent of the law.
Still, we do not see Bahamians being taken to court in any significant numbers and charged for hiring undocumented workers.
Last October, the prime minister again warned companies that hire undocumented workers that they will be “disciplined severely”.
“…We will check and you will be dealt with severely,” Minnis warned.
The prime minister said the warning was not only for Abaco and Grand Bahama — which suffered major destruction from Hurricane Dorian in September — but rather “the whole country”.
On Monday, Minnis said again in Parliament that “Bahamians who employ illegals will and must be prosecuted”.
“We cannot continue along a lawless society if we are to protect our citizens,” he said.
Now the so-called strike force will apparently act.
“I have given the minister with responsibility for immigration the task of establishing a strike force whose mandate would be to aggressively pursue illegals, both throughout New Providence and the Family Islands, through our streets and at various job sites,” Minnis said.
The prime minister also expressed dismay that too many foreigners are occupying jobs Bahamians should fill.
Minnis has promised to drive down unemployment to six percent by the end of 2021. No one we know believes this will happen, but he said people responsible for training Bahamians to fill jobs are not doing what they are supposed to be doing.
The prime minister said, “I am embarrassed sometimes when I walk about and see the amount of individuals who speak a different language than I do, but yet, have big contracts within our country. That must stop. Bahamians first.”
If Minnis has a plan to address that problem then he should roll it out. Again, he should talk less and ensure the law is applied fairly.
After nearly three years in office, his administration cannot even get a handle on the labor situation at the Pointe project in downtown Nassau where foreign workers have outnumbered Bahamian workers.
In January, Director of Labour John Pinder reported that during his department’s last inspection, it was discovered that there were 229 Chinese, 38 other nationalities and just 97 Bahamians working on the project at this stage.
Yet we continue to hear rhetoric on immigration.
To be clear, immigration laws must be enforced.
The authorities should have a sustained response to this decades-old problem.
Our immigration laws already empower immigration department authorities to detain undocumented people in our midst.
The Department of Labour and the Department of Immigration have vital roles to play in ensuring positions are filled by Bahamians if there are qualified and available Bahamians to fill those positions.
The prime minister’s pandering on the issue is tiresome. His incendiary language is also unhelpful and irresponsible.
Sending warnings from Parliament like a Sheriff in the Wild Wild West is not doing much to address the issue at hand.