Minister of Labour and Immigration Keith Bell said yesterday the government will not be rushed in granting citizenship.
The minister was responding to comments made by Chief Justice Sir Ian Winder, who said there is no lawful justification why citizenship applications for individuals born in The Bahamas to foreign parents ought to take years and in some cases decades to be processed.
Sir Ian said the issue is a recipe for social discontent.
But Bell said everyone is entitled to their opinion, including the chief justice.
“In many instances, the delay is not necessarily the fault of immigration alone,” Bell said.
“We have to ensure that the documents that are submitted are authenticated. We have to ensure that we get birth certificates. We know that there is significant fraud. There are persons taking on the identification of other persons. We’ve had the cases.
“As a matter of fact, I have three cases on my desk right now.
“We have to ensure that we do our due diligence and when we make a recommendation to go before the Cabinet for citizenship that we are satisfied that we … turned over every stone to make sure that the person is in fact entitled to that.
“That will not happen overnight nor do I encourage that we ought to rush the process because once we grant that citizenship, that is it.”
Asked if the government should have a timeline for processing citizenship applications, the minister balked.
“I don’t think it is reasonable for the government to necessarily put in place a timeline,” he replied.
“You must accept the fact that citizenship is one of the highest things that a country can bestow on an individual. We’re talking about citizenship. We’re not talking about something else. So, it is nothing to be taken lightly.
“I would think we would want to ensure that we do our due diligence and as Bahamians that anyone that we would want to bestow this highest honor, we want to ensure that we [do] everything we possibly can to ensure that we are giving the right persons citizenship to our country.”
The chief justice spoke on the issue last Thursday during the “Eugene Dupuch Distinguished Lecture” on the topic, “Status, rights and obligations: Legal issues in citizenship, immigration and asylum laws in the Commonwealth of The Bahamas” hosted by the Eugene Dupuch Law School.
Sir Ian said it is widely known that applicants often have to wait several years for the government to decide on their nationality applications and, in the interim, do not have documentation to secure employment, housing, and public services.
He noted, “The lack of a passport also prohibits students from pursuing higher education outside the country. Until recently, these students had to pay the same rate (or double the tuition) at the University of The Bahamas as foreigners.
“They continue to be denied any opportunity for government scholarships, notwithstanding their entitlement to be registered as a citizen, limited only by national security and public policy concerns.”
Bell said citizenship is a “birthright” that must be “protected at all costs”.
“We are asking for those persons who have applied, and yes they may have an entitlement but the reality is, given the very large fraud, given the number of documents that we get that we know are fraudulent, we want to ensure that we do everything and we are satisfied that we do not circumvent any processes,” he said.
The US Department of State’s 2022 Human Rights Report on The Bahamas also raises the issue of statelessness.
It notes that under the constitution, Bahamas-born persons of foreign heritage must apply for citizenship during a 12-month period following their 18th birthday, but applicants sometimes waited many years for a government response.
“The short window for application, difficulty of securing proper documentation, and long wait times left multiple generations of persons, primarily of Haitian descent, without a nationality,” the report states.