Money is the root of illegal Haitian immigration

Dear Editor,

In the search for motive, reason or rationale to explain the travesties, mysteries or controversies of life if is usually wise to follow the money.

In the current debate over illegal immigrants it would be wise to think in terms of dollars and cents in order to understand the problem, fix it, then control it.

Money is the chief motivating factor that drives tens of thousands of Haitians to The Bahamas. Previously, Haitians ran away to escape the dreaded Tonton Macoute, the murderous goon squad that protected Haiti’s dictator Duvalier family.

We provided welcome to Haiti’s elite and moderately educated. They eventually assimilated and are today proud Bahamians contributing to business, medicine, politics, the arts, sports and education.

But then in 1971, the Haitian economy went from dire to dismal. Millions left, not in fear for their lives, but in search of economic opportunity. The fact that they are mostly uneducated and destitute with manual labor as their only negotiable skill forced us to rearrange our society in order to dance around our Haitian chaos.

Try and imagine a budget meeting in the ministries of finance, health, national security and education or the attorney general’s office that doesn’t have to navigate the Haitian problem and allocate millions of our tax dollars to addressing it.

Haitians obviously contribute to our GDP but imagine the cost of taxpayer-funded Haitian Creole interpreters in the emergency room, the classroom, the court room, the police station and on our defense force boats.

The key impediment to fixing the problem is the Haitian government itself. They are totally dysfunctional. They are a semi-presidential republic. They have an executive president alongside a prime minister who is supposed to actually run the government. But it doesn’t work. Haiti is a failed state just 200 miles from Inagua. It would take the slowest, most overloaded Haitian sloop just 72 hours to illegally sail into our waters.

As we deal once again with this vexing problem, we need to think in terms of money to better understand the problem in order to appreciate why the Haitian government cannot and will never be credible partners to control migration.

Remittances – the money sent home by Haitians abroad — is the number one earner of foreign exchange for Haiti, much like tourism earns foreign exchange for us.

In 2018, Haiti received $2.5 billion in remittances. Put in context, this is $1 billion more than the budget for the entire country of 10 million people. By contrast for our population of 400,000 (including 80,000 Haitians) our budget is $2.6 billion.

Although Haiti’s government is dysfunctional, few Bahamians appreciate that Haiti has a cabinet level position called the minister of Haitians living abroad. This is a powerful ministry in Haiti because it oversees remittances.

If your economy depends on remittances from Haitians who make it out of the misery, then it stands to reason that your government policy must be to encourage more Haitians to leave the island, legally or illegally. Organized human smuggling agencies proliferate in Haiti, hiding in plain sight.

The most Haitians abroad – two million – live next door in the Dominican Republic where they are not welcomed. There are 1.5 million Haitians in the U.S. and 300,000 in Cuba. The Bahamas is home to more Haitians than France.

But back to the money. Five countries send the most remittances to Haiti each year. The U.S. is number one with $1.5 billion, followed by the Dominican Republic at $566 million, France at $149 million, Canada at $144 million and The Bahamas at $60 million.

If each recipient family in Haiti receives just $400 per year, remittances from The Bahamas could support 150,000 families.

It strains credulity to pretend that the illegal Haitians here who were so generously supporting kin back home, would not find welcoming arms when they are repatriated.

The simple fact is that Haiti doesn’t want any of them to come back.

Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis must use his new-found friendship with the secretary general of the United Nations to make this an international problem. If the world objects to our repatriation of undocumented Haitians, then let those countries accept them.

We should simultaneously make this a CARICOM problem and have the naval patrols of Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago join us, the U.S. Coast Guard, the British and Canadian navies in putting up a sea cordon off Inagua and Turks and Caicos (their Haitian problem is worse than ours).

We must decide if we want to pay for interdiction now or for social disruption later.

It’s all about the blue marlins.

– The Graduate

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