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New immigration bill will come to House this year, AG says

A bill that recommends sweeping changes to the country’s immigration laws will get Parliament’s attention this year, according to Attorney General Carl Bethel.

The Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill addresses the long-standing problem of statelessness and the rights of Bahamians to pass on their citizenship.

The bill was put out for consultation on February 21, 2018.

According to Bethel, feedback is “being reviewed now”.

“It has to be thoroughly reviewed to make sure, you know, that we don’t state the obvious in the new bill but rather…to enact laws which cover and make provision in areas where the constitution is silent or has not made provision,” he said.

Bethel added, “A number of the comments received during that process have been factored in. Again, I and my legal team will be looking at it from a quality and consistency point of view.

“And also, there’s some residual questions that were raised at the last minute by particular jurists, who reviewed them, that we will have to look at and consider as to whether the bill is restating what is in the constitution or not restating it.”

The bill would establish a “right of abode”, or a right to live, in The Bahamas for anyone born in The Bahamas to foreign parents while they are a minor – before they reach 18.

It would also establish a right to live in The Bahamas for anyone born legitimately outside The Bahamas to a Bahamian mother, while that person is still a minor.

These minors would be able to apply for a resident belonger’s permit which could be approved by the immigration director, “provided that such an applicant is in the custody and care of a parent or guardian who has the right of abode in The Bahamas”.

The bill, which is 123 pages, would repeal the Bahamas Nationality Act and the Immigration Act.

It would also establish provisions for those seeking asylum in The Bahamas.

Traffic penalties

Parliament will also give attention to tougher traffic penalties.

The government is hoping “to increase the range of penalty options” in 2020.

“…If somebody standing on the side of the road negligently does an act that causes somebody to die, they can be liable on a charge of killing by gross negligence and get a penalty up to life even,” Bethel told The Nassau Guardian.

He added, “And this is why there have been these – what the public now perceives to be – outrageously low penalties for drivers who basically just get [on] their cellphones and mow down people on the side of the road.

“And so, the thinking has been it should not be any different just because you’re sitting behind the wheel of a car than if you were standing on the side of the road and did something that caused somebody to die.”

On December 18, Transport Minister Renward Wells tabled the Road Traffic Amendment (No. 2) Bill, 2019, in the House of Assembly.

The bill aims to increase penalties for people convicted of killing in the course of dangerous or reckless driving.

The bill provides for prison sentences of up to 15 years.

According to Bethel, there are still some “difficulties” with the bill.

“…We are still grappling with that in terms of the Privy Council case Hinds vs. DPP that a subordinate court should not be really handing out major sentences,” Bethel said.

Social services

Parliament is also expected to debate a bill that deals with the regulation of nursing homes.

There are16 residential homes and facilities for the elderly that are recognized by the government, according to the government’s website.

Eleven of those facilities are privately owned.

“The idea is to regulate these homes away from home hospices for the elderly,” Bethel told The Nassau Guardian.

“You know, you have a number of homes for the aged that are either well-known or not so well-known. You hear about the Persis Rodgers home which apparently is fairly well-organized, but there are a number of more informal — if you will – homes, where aged persons are cared for for money by the facilities and they are not properly regulated as yet.

“It’s bringing some kind of regulatory regime that will ensure a standard of care for the aged for-profit operators.”

Legislation protecting the elderly was expected to be completed by the end of last year, according to Minister of Social Services Frankie Campbell.

It is unclear if that deadline was met.

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Jasper Ward

Jasper Ward started at The Nassau Guardian in September 2018. Ward covers a wide range of national and social issues. Education: Goldsmiths, University of London, MA in Race, Media and Social Justice

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