Diplomatic Notes

The immigration quandry

The past few days have been filled with information about the impact of illegal immigration on The Bahamas. It seems the level of illegal immigration keeps expanding. There were videos from Harbour Island, Abaco and Andros that showed an alarming increase in the number of illegal immigrants. Some residents expressed fear, others expressed outrage and there are protests being planned even as I pen this column.

What can or should we do about illegal immigration? To begin with, the historical threat to the sovereignty of The Bahamas has long been a perplexing challenge that many administrations have promised to address and solve. Solutions have been few and far between. Many look to the statements and actions of former immigration minister, A. Loftus Roker, as a lost opportunity to save The Bahamas. His measures seemed draconian at the time – but many look back in retrospect and wonder what would have happened and where we would be if his words had been heeded.

Fast forward to today and the current anarchic situation in Haiti has caused an epic rise and the biggest immigration crisis The Bahamas has ever faced. Images of boats loaded with Haitians continue to flood the internet and information showing how corrupt immigration officials are benefitting from the crisis continue to emerge. Is there a solution and what can we expect going forward?

This is indeed a crisis because the population of Haiti is in the millions and there is no shortage of Haitians who plan on making, or are already on, their way to The Bahamas. Our population, estimated at some 350,000, of which an estimated 100,000-plus are Haitian, tells us that we are already on the verge of being outnumbered and it is only a matter of time before Bahamas-born Bahamians will be a minority.

This means a shift in our identity and culture will take place and has already been taking place for some time. We desperately need a strategic plan to determine what The Bahamas will be going forward – and how to preserve our national identity and culture. If we look at cities like Miami or Los Angeles, it may give us a picture of what tomorrow looks like for The Bahamas. I remember as a youngster going to Miami and experiencing Miami only to return after 10 years and realize that the Miami I knew no longer existed. I went looking for my favorite Royal Castle restaurant and instead found a Cuban coffee shop in the same spot where no one spoke English.

In Los Angeles, Black Americans in South Central Los Angeles, and even areas like Compton, have been displaced and have had to move to other areas because Mexicans have taken over. This scenario has already happened in what we call Over-the-Hill communities in Nassau and on some of the islands. I went to schools on Abaco a few years back and the school population was 98 percent Haitian and the students were speaking Creole.

It is not a matter of xenophobia – it is a reality check. We must always be human to others. The Bible tells us how to treat strangers and refugees but you cannot help others at the expense of your way of life. It is impossible for The Bahamas to accommodate all Haitians who want to come to The Bahamas, so we must find a way to balance compassion with common sense and national security.

In my next column, I will outline some proposals that I believe may help The Bahamas secure its borders and maintain its sovereignty.

• Pastor Dave Burrows is senior pastor at Bahamas Faith Ministries International. Feel free to email comments, whether you agree or disagree, to pastordaveburrows@hotmail.com. I appreciate your input and dialogue. We become better when we discuss, examine and exchange.  

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