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Some cautiously celebrate citizenship ruling

Like many others born out of wedlock to a Bahamian father and a foreign mother, Helen Bethel, 19, had to wait until she was 18 years old to apply for citizenship, which she has yet to be granted.

But on Monday, the Court of Appeal affirmed a ruling by Supreme Court Justice Ian Winder that every person born in The Bahamas shall become a citizen of The Bahamas at their date of birth if either parent, irrespective of their marital status, is a citizen of The Bahamas.

Bethel, however, didn’t know that yesterday, when she was contacted about the issue.

“Oh, thank you, Jesus,” she said, her voice cracking, when informed of the development.

“You made me so emotional.

“You know how long I have been waiting on this? Years. And it’s not just me one. I have a twin sister who is actually with me and needs to get this done. So, the fact that I can hear this, it just, it makes me happy, you know?

“Because it’s been a while without work, and you can’t do anything. You can’t go on family trips. You can’t go to college. And all I ever wanted to do was go to college, become a nurse, follow in a good path.

“… I just want to go down the right path. And the fact that you’re saying this to me, it just makes me so happy.”

Winder’s ruling allows children born out of wedlock to Bahamian men and foreign women in The Bahamas to be entitled to citizenship from birth, contradicting the longstanding requirement that children born in The Bahamas out of wedlock to Bahamian men and foreign women must wait until 18 to apply for citizenship. 

Attorney General Carl Bethel has indicated the government’s plans to appeal the ruling to the Privy Council.

However, Wayne Munroe, QC, who represented the applicants in the matter, said he is advising individuals to apply for their passports now.

“They should apply for their passports and they should apply for their voter’s cards,” he said.

“If they refuse, then they take the government to court.

“The Supreme Court will be bound to follow the decision of the Court of Appeal. And because of the doctrine of precedent, the Court of Appeal would be bound to follow its previous decision.”

As for those who have already applied for citizenship and are still waiting, Munroe said they should now “demand their passports”.

When asked yesterday if he expects people impacted by the ruling to demand citizenship, Minister of Immigration Elsworth Johnson said they can do whatever the law allows, noting that it is the court’s responsibility to interpret the law.

“Well, you know, persons can do, as long as it falls within the ambit of the law, can do anything,” he told reporters outside Cabinet.

“And so, if persons feel as if that’s what they want to do, that’s it.”

He added, “We respect the court. And as Justice Longley said in one of his observations, if the court gives a ruling, because the court’s duty is to interpret the law, and that is one of the most beautiful things in our constitutional democracy.

“And if you are dissatisfied and you don’t like it and you think you can expand on the law in appealing, then you do that.”

Bethel said yesterday that she applied for her citizenship earlier this year, but is still waiting to find out whether it has been approved. 

“I recently applied in February and they told me they can’t…tell me how long the process would take,” she said.

“For many people, it takes years, two years, three years.

“It’s just ridiculous.”

Bethel said the process is delaying her goals.

She said getting a work permit is still an expensive process, so she opted to wait until she could apply for citizenship.

“It’s very depressing, because, as a young person, you want to work, be independent,” she said.

“You want to be able to travel, make that dream come true. And it’s just very hard and depressing the fact that you have to wait so long in order to do what you have to do.

“I feel like they don’t give us an opportunity to become somebody because it’s always a document situation.”

Although Don Goodman, 26, is Bahamian, his six-year-old daughter, whose mother is Haitian, is not a Bahamian citizen.

“My baby is my heart, so everything I have to do for her, I’ll do for her.”

Goodman said he is hesitant to get his hopes up about the ruling.

“They tried to do it before and it didn’t come through,” said the Andros resident.

“But all of the hassle that we’re trying to do now, I already went to Nassau, went to the immigration office, got adoption papers and everything, paid money, for them to tell me that I still can’t do it.

“So it would be more than appreciated if they do get everything sorted out so that fathers could actually get their kids’ passports and everything so that they could get citizenship.”

Goodman said he would do anything to give his daughter a good life, but he hadn’t realized how significantly his girlfriend’s citizenship could impact his daughter’s life.

“A lot of people told me about it, but not having a lot of knowledge about it, it didn’t really bother me at the moment until time went on and getting her in school and everything,” he said.

“And as she moves up in her education, I know that it’s going to get more difficult if you don’t have these things, especially if she wants to go off or if she gets a scholarship, anything like that.”

He added, “I never understood it, because to me, it’s 100 percent unfair that a Bahamian mother could have a baby with a foreigner and she’s able to just get the passport and whatever just like that.”

Goodman continued, “Why can’t a father who shows the same love, care and interest in the child be given the rights to do the same?”

Evene Francois, 25, has been waiting for years to become a Bahamian citizen.

Born in The Bahamas to Haitian parents, who are permanent residents, she said the road to citizenship, which she began when she was 18, has been an arduous one.

But she said she is most concerned about her children, who have not been able to get a Bahamian passport although their father is Bahamian.

Francois said she is relieved by the court’s ruling, and hopes it will mean a more promising future for her five-year-old son and one-year-old daughter.

“It’s a relief for me because it’s been hard knowing that there are benefits here and they can’t get any benefits because they don’t have anything,” she said.

“And then I’m still waiting on my stuff, so it was very frustrating. And their dad couldn’t give them anything.”

Francois added, “So, it’s been hard. So, this is literally something to celebrate. Because now that this ruling has come about, the children can actually get something…without having to apply for citizenship or wait until they’re 18.”

But Francois admitted that she believes many Bahamians won’t be pleased about the ruling.

Asked what she would say to those people, she said: “For me, I would say, at the end of the day, it’s not our fault.

“We were born here just like them. It’s just that we were born from foreign parents. That does not mean our kids, the second generation, should suffer as well.

“Their fathers are Bahamians. So, why not? Why can’t they be Bahamians?

“It’s not fair that they have to go through what we went through when we were born here. And are still trying to process our things to claim that we’re Bahamians, but their fathers are, so why can’t they get anything from their fathers? I never understood it from the beginning.”

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Rachel Scott

Rachel joined The Nassau Guardian in January 2019. Rachel covers national issues. Education: University of Virginia in Charlottesville, BA in Foreign Affairs and Spanish

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