Free National Movement (FNM) Deputy Leader Shanendon Cartwright yesterday called on the government to aggressively address illegal immigration in The Bahamas.
“This is not a question of xenophobia as we all recognize that legal immigrants, particularly those from our sister Caribbean countries, have played a vital role in helping to build our nation,” said Cartwright in a statement.
“This is a question of ensuring a long-term sustainable future for the Bahamian people who have an unalienable right and privilege to expect that their patronage be secured and their interest to be prioritized in their own country.”
Cartwright pointed to the burial on Saturday of nine women and an infant, who were victims of a human smuggling tragedy off Nassau on July 24.
The infant’s mother was pregnant with him at the time of the incident, but he was removed from her womb by authorities after her body was retrieved, and was placed in her coffin.
Eight other deceased victims were claimed by their families.
Cartwright also pointed to comments made by South and Central Abaco MP John Pinder, who told The Nassau Guardian last month the shantytown problem is worsening on Abaco and there is a growing national security risk.
“What is clear to any objective observer is that illegal Haitian migration continues to escalate due to the deteriorating conditions in Haiti, and the current administration does not have a clear plan to address it,” he said.
“For decades, we have been severely challenged to address the illegal immigration crises in the Commonwealth of The Bahamas including the related issue of land access and land occupation. Bahamians I speak to every day are rightly concerned about the situation.
“We often hear concerns about illegal Haitian migration dismissed as xenophobia or hatred.
“But I am hearing a growing chorus of fear about Bahamians being left to fend for themselves as far as economic opportunities and housing in their own country.”
Cartwright added, “For many people, there is a basic sense of unfair competition in The Bahamas for those who play by the rules. I do not pretend there are easy or immediate solutions to the problem. But we must all acknowledge it is a problem.”
Cartwright said the FNM is not seeking to diminish anyone of Haitian descent or dismiss their many contributions to the country.
“What we are saying is that the government must get more serious about enforcing our immigration laws,” he said.
“That a government MP can pinpoint an entire community of illegal migrants that the government has left undisturbed is scandalous.
“That the Department of Immigration has not yet been compelled to act is baffling.
“We are all aware that the shantytown issue on Abaco is before the courts, but there are apparently many other laws being violated that do not pertain to the buildings in those communities.”
Cartwright said there is clearly Bahamian complicity in employing and housing illegal migrants.
“To that effect, the government must get serious about enforcing our labor laws,” he added.
“If illegal migrants were not so easily able to find work with Bahamian employers, the flow of illegal migration would slow.”
The FNM deputy said Bahamians are not satisfied that enough is being done.
“The government must act or the situation will only get worse,” he said.