The complexity of illegal immigration

In this lifetime, many of us will not be vulnerable or desperate enough to leave our birth country due to violence, heinous crimes, and extreme poverty. Most of us empathize with the stories shared by the media that portray inhumane living conditions and a daily fight to survive across many least developing countries (LDCs). The issue of illegal immigration is truly a test of humanity. But where do we draw the line? While it may be a hard pill to swallow, a line must be drawn. By far, Haitian migrants constitute the largest migrant community in The Bahamas. Haiti has an estimated population of over 11.5 million persons and every year, The Bahamas becomes home to thousands of undocumented immigrants in search of a better life. Our government, both past and present, has been generous enough to accommodate both illegal and legal immigrants. But the rising costs of living and lack of diversification in the Bahamian economy simply does not allow for The Bahamas to be home to hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants.

The cost of illegal immigration

For a developed nation like the United States, illegal immigrants and their own citizen children cost taxpayers an additional $12 billion to $16.2 billion annually for education, public services, and incarceration after deducting all local, state and federal taxes paid by them (Huddle, 1995). Economies of scale would tell a different and far more precarious scenario for The Bahamas. According to a survey released on Haitian migration to The Bahamas (2006), “Haitian migrants are not well integrated into Bahamian society. Owing to low-income levels, they make considerably more use of public than private healthcare and education services while seeking help amongst themselves for other kinds of social support.” It is recorded that an estimated 70,000 illegal immigrants, predominately from Haiti, currently abide in The Bahamas. Some argue that this number is higher since there are many undocumented cases of illegal immigration that aren’t counted. But whatever the true number may be, we do not have the economic and social means to sustain large waves of immigrants. A study has yet to be done that shows the percentage of services budgeted by the government that goes towards illegal immigrants for displacement costs, public healthcare, labor markets and education services. It is also important that we capture some form of revenue from immigrants that seek a better life in The Bahamas. This can be done via a remittance tax which is a  percentage paid on a cash transfer made from one person to another outside of the country. By doing this, it allows us to see the ratio between benefits given versus gained by immigrants both legal and illegal. 

Outside of breaking immigration laws, the presence of illegal immigrants also has a negative effect on employment for Bahamian workers. This is not to say that immigrants who come to The Bahamas are all free loaders. In fact, many Haitians are very dedicated workers. You may find that immigrants tend to not have inflated egos about the type of work they are able to find. Nonetheless, it does not change the effect it has on the Bahamian to foreigner labor ratio. Bahamians are skilled in many blue-collar jobs, but illegal and legal immigrants are allowed to work in industries that seek to minimize costs for a larger profit. This is one of the reasons why illegal immigration becomes complex because it is an unspoken convenience for those that benefit from it. We are a part of the problem.

Profit sideways

It is no secret that the fuel keeping the engine of illegal immigration going is provided by some of our very own Bahamians. Have you ever wondered why some shantytowns return after a “raid”? Who are some of the captains or negotiators organizing fleets from Haiti into our waters? Illegal immigration is a business, and its model has been around for many years. It is no surprise that many seek temporary or permanent refugee in The Bahamas due to its proximity to the United States. While this may be a lucrative business, it is a dangerous one that epitomes the highest form of corruption and disservice to Bahamians. There are better, safer and more humane ways to assist refugees.

The National 

Development Plan

The National Development Plan (NDP) has provided a strategy for improving immigration policy. While more can be done to make conditions more humane for those entering illegally, it is important for our country to focus on immigration policies that encourage the best global minds to live and work in The Bahamas in a manner which promotes the prosperity of Bahamians. Like many other countries, immigration policies are centered around bringing individuals that can fill jobs, create new sectors, and offer new skillsets. Even amongst those that are illegal immigrants, there are programs put in place to ensure human rights and protection for refugees. These programs even allow for illegal immigrants to be properly documented and assessed for an opportunity to receive residency. To strengthen immigration legislation, the NDP has provided several options to address these matters such as:

• Structured and clear detention policy and procedures for detained migrants;

• Enforcement of fines against airlines transporting illegal migrants into the country;

• Increase in social cohesion within communities;

• A clear and equitable policy on addressing refugee matters. 


Our country is doing the best it can to help others in need while building a better Bahamas. But we have our limits. We simply do not have the resources, funds, and infrastructure in place to grant residency to every illegal immigrant or budget more for displacement costs for thousands of illegal immigrants when our very own Bahamian women and children are subject to extreme poverty. It is not fair. Our country is already polluted with its own issues as it relates to high debt to gross domestic product (GDP), high crime, high unemployment and little to no opportunity outside of tourism and financial services despite being independent since 1973. If we can’t resolve our own issues amongst ourselves, imagine adding burdens caused by undocumented migrants or stateless individuals. Unfortunately, we need to regain balance for the sake of our own humanity.

• Roderick A. Simms II is the past BCCEC family island division director. Email: RASII@ME.com.

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