The Bahamas has a long history of repatriating Haitian nationals even while growing numbers of Bahamian farmers, businesses, building contractors and households employ Haitian nationals to fill jobs increasingly shunned by Bahamians.
Haitian employees of Bahamians serve as a base for communities of undocumented Haitian nationals in our country.
Their meagre incomes and lack of documentation meant that most could not find housing in the legitimate rental pool. So, they resorted to living in groups of makeshift structures hidden in unpopulated areas which today we call shantytowns.
Perennial political unrest and economic stagnation in Haiti fuelled the numbers of Haitians seeking to fill job vacancies in The Bahamas. Nearly all of them came without permits or documents of any kind, on shockingly unsafe boats, seeking refuge from the turmoil and misery in Haiti.
Efforts to locate, detain and repatriate Haitian nationals are continuous; a revolving door of unauthorized arrivals followed by deportations that tend to accelerate during depressed economic times when unemployment rates increase.
Such immigration exercises become political fodder when political leaders, seeking to demonstrate that they are the most nationalistic, care most about the interests of Bahamians and are least tolerant of unauthorized and undocumented immigration, place laser focus on illegal immigration, becoming demagogic in their effort to lay blame for all that is wrong in the country on undocumented immigrants.
Strangely, this has never prevented them from seeking the endorsement and support at the ballot box of the Haitian-Bahamian minority.
We are now undergoing an especially active period of detention and deportation of Haitian nationals.
Among the Hurricane Dorian-displaced are many Haitian-Bahamians, others with permanent resident status or valid work permits and still others — undocumented who have been, in some cases, generational residents of our most affluent Family Island, Abaco.
The exposure of so many persons of Haitian extraction in our midst has stoked the flames of xenophobia.
That the hurricane’s destructive blow came at a time when the Bahamian economy continues to limp toward recovery and at a time when the government is eager to distract Bahamians from its increasingly glaring ineptitude, does not help the Haitian cause.
Some Bahamians claim that “illegal Haitians” are taking jobs away from them, yet they will not countenance the idea of replacing those Haitians as maids, landscapers, unskilled construction laborers, house painters and maintenance men.
The cleanup and reconstruction of Abaco will not be accomplished without Haitian labor nor was the repair of schools around New Providence this year.
Others lament the abundance of Haitian tailors, barbers and mechanics in the Bahamian economy but do nothing to qualify themselves to fill those positions.
In reality, most quality masons in the country are of Haitian extraction; finishing carpenters are Jamaican and a growing number of healthcare professionals, teachers and housekeepers are from the Philippines.
Some claim to fear that our sovereignty is threatened, and our culture is being overrun by the large number of Haitians in our midst.
This from Bahamians whose favorite foods include KFC fare, McDonald’s and Wendy’s hamburgers and a variety of U.S.-franchise pizza pies.
We don’t eat Haitian foods; we eat American junk food.
Many of these same Bahamians favor reggae, calypso and rap to traditional Bahamian rake n’ scrape and are quick to abandon Junkanoo for carnival and have never visited the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas.
It is those new habits that threaten and corrupt our culture.
Now, our courts, not satisfied with convicting, fining and deporting Haitians, are imposing prison terms and fines — so clearly out of the reach of convicts as to effectively lengthen their stay in prison at our expense. Reason and logic seem nowadays to be in short supply.
These attitudes and actions will not resolve our economic problems; they will not grow our economy; they will not preserve all things Bahamian or enhance an elusive sovereignty so many claim to hold sacred.
But the treatment being meted out to so many undocumented Haitians is indeed changing Bahamian culture; it is destroying our culture of kindness, our generosity of spirit and our traditional goodwill toward our fellow man.