The prime minister and the minister responsible for immigration have made numerous pronouncements on the fate of undocumented immigrants in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian.
Many Bahamians vividly recall the directive issued by the prime minister almost two years ago on October 11, 2017, warning all illegal migrants that they have until December 31, 2017 to leave the country, after which they will be “aggressively pursued and deported”.
That directive proved to be nothing more than grandstanding and posturing as there were no new initiatives, actions or policies aimed at changing the existing protocols.
The Democratic National Alliance (DNA) is concerned that despite the recent announcements, it remains unclear what the government intends to do to address an illegal migration problem that has festered under successive administrations.
The current administration has failed to articulate a coherent and comprehensive immigration policy but has exacerbated an already bad state of affairs.
This Minnis-led administration has shown no true commitment toward addressing this generational issue that has impacted the very landscape of The Bahamas.
The DNA is empathetic to the plight of all those impacted by Hurricane Dorian and we continue to pray for them. While we appreciate that the magnitude of the disaster led the government toward leniency in the enforcement of immigration laws in the immediate aftermath of the storm, we believe that the government’s decision should have been balanced with a structured approach to the identification and recording of all undocumented migrants on Grand Bahama and Abaco.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, we have seen a mass exodus of inhabitants of the Abacos and Grand Bahama to New Providence with a few relocating to other Family Islands. The documentation process has been deficient, and it is difficult to determine undocumented migrants from the impacted islands from other undocumented migrants.
While some are currently being housed in shelters, others have integrated and blended with the general population. In essence, the government has dropped the ball and the illegal migration problem has been compounded by poor management and a failure to plan.
The government has suspended deportations in the impacted areas providing the Bahamian people with no timeline for a reinstatement of the policy.
Some are citing the government’s policy position taken in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010. The peculiar case of Hurricane Dorian must be distinguished from that event.
Bahamians would recall that the FNM administration at the time made the controversial decision to release those detained at the Carmichael Road Detention Centre and offered temporary legal status to Haitians at the time.
The decision in 2010 was unpopular in several quarters and revealed disagreements between the then-prime minister, the minister of immigration and minister of state for immigration. It should be clear that in this case (unlike the 2010 earthquake), islands of The Bahamas were the ones impacted by Hurricane Dorian and not the countries to which undocumented immigrants would have been deported.
To date, we are not aware of the current status of the individuals who benefited from this amnesty.
We note that the immigration minister has indicated that undocumented migrants must apply for legal status to avoid deportation. He further indicated that persons with work permits tied to specific employers may seek employment elsewhere with their existing work permit and could not state when repatriations will commence for undocumented migrants from Grand Bahama and Abaco; many of whom are now in New Providence.
Can the minister explain to the Bahamian people: how can an undocumented migrant who is in The Bahamas illegally apply for legal status?
Will he also articulate how his ministry intends to differentiate undocumented migrants from Hurricane Dorian-impacted islands from other undocumented migrants in The Bahamas?
Has the government carefully considered its decision to have unemployed work permit holders from Abaco and Grand Bahama join the unemployed labor force in New Providence and other islands?
What impact does the government believe this will have on displacing Bahamians and increasing the unemployment rate?
How will various government ministries including education, health, national security and social services adapt to the increase in population on New Providence?
Does the government have a plan and timelines for its numerous announcements on immigration? The DNA submits that until the government can answer these questions, they should desist from pontification and uttering headline-seeking political rhetoric.
The Bahamas has always been empathetic toward the plight of economic migrants; however, the DNA is adamant that the rule of law must be upheld.
Our government must govern in the best interest of the Bahamian people and not be complicit in compounding an issue that has served as a generational challenge.
We call for a comprehensive approach to immigration reform which secures our borders, addresses loopholes in our laws and enforces stiff penalties for those who break our laws.
The time for playing political football with this matter is over. This generation of Bahamians will not allow any administration governing today to continue the perpetuation of a cycle which continues to undermine the rule of law and present socio-economic challenges to the detriment and disadvantage of Bahamians.
– Arinthia S. Komolafe