The so-called New so-called Immigration so-called Policy

On the surface, the Christie administration’s New Immigration Policy should not be controversial. Because, on the surface, one may think that it is merely a renewed resolve to enforce existing laws governing immigration in the Bahamas. Because, on the surface, it has unanimous support across the political spectrum, from PLP to FNM to DNA. Because, on the surface, it enjoys the vast support of the Bahamian electorate, a purported 85%, according to some polls. And that is all that matters in a democracy, right? Wrong.

Wrong, because it continues the long-standing misunderstanding of the meaning of democracy in the Bahamas. Majority Rule, a term carelessly thrown around in our country, is a misnomer, for a democracy is not, must not, be the tyranny of the majority. A democracy must always protect the rights of all individuals – majority and minority, supporter and dissenter.

Wrong, because if governments enforce one set of laws by violating any given number of other laws in the process of doing so, the Rule of Law becomes the first victim of the process. However, without the Rule of Law, what ought to be the guaranteed rights of the individual versus state authority become random acts of kindness – or not – at the arbitrary whim of the state and its executioners. Citizens are asked to trade in their constitutional rights for politicians’ promises of favourable or benign treatment.

Wrong, because it does not really address the challenge that immigration may pose to the Bahamas in any meaningful way. The Bahamas may have an immigration problem, although conclusive empirical data demonstrating that the presence of immigrants indeed negatively affects Bahamian realities is sorely lacking. However, one must not solve an immigration situation merely by victimising immigrants, yet that is what this so-called new so-called immigration so-called policy does. The Bahamas, however, depends on some immigration to alleviate the effects of a failed education system that politicians for generations have refused to address. Furthermore, if there is an immigration problem in a destination country, it is naive to suggest that it could be resolved without addressing the emigration problem in the country or countries of origin. That is what this so-called new so-called immigration so-called policy does not even attempt to address.

It is, therefore, a purely domestic measure, devised by demagogues, to placate an ill-informed electorate in an attempt to reverse the PLP’s dwindling popularity resulting out of other botched domestic measures such as the dual referendum disaster, or the implementation of a regressive value-added tax in an economy already characterised by extraordinarily high income inequality. It is these conditions that disenfranchise large groups of Bahamians socially, politically and economically. A 2005 study by the International Organization for Migration observed that the Bahamian “media does not attempt to help the average Bahamian to understand these important issues, but instead focuses on the negative aspects of the migrant population.” It is these conditions that make the Bahamas such a fertile ground for scapegoating, in this instance expressed through an irrational xenophobia.

In fact, “irrational” seems to be the best word to describe almost any aspect of this so-called new so-called immigration so-called policy. Not only does this “policy” not genuinely address immigration, but the systematic victimisation of vulnerable groups can hardly be considered a new phenomenon. However, most surprising is the Christie administration’s insistence on calling it a policy in the first place. A policy, by definition, as an action guide for the administrative executive branches of government “should solve a public problem without violating the legal boundaries set down by … laws. It must encourage an active citizenry, furthermore, as well as the democratic process.” In contrast to this definition, “policy” in the current Bahamian context would appear to mean an arbitrary system of chicanery, either without any legal foundation, or, at best, pre-empting a legal framework that may be brought forward at some point in the future, that may sanction current infringements upon fundamental rights ex post facto.

Fred Mitchell, Minister of Immigration, himself implicitly admitted that not only the government’s historical approach to immigration was not fully compliant with existing law, but that also the procedures constituting his new stance beginning 1st November, 2014, lack support in Bahamian law. Said Mitchell, “The detention centre was set up without any governance procedures and rules so it’s just going on general principles of management. What needs to happen is similar to the prison – there needs to be a set of regulations which govern the detention centre.” And: New legislation is “already drafted. With these things it’s just working its way through the system. I hope that as soon as parliament reconvenes in January we can move it forward. … [Until then] I can’t say that you must carry your passport, that’s not for me to decide. What is prudent is to have something which identifies you with the Bahamas and the right to live and work here.” In other words, there is no legal requirement for a Bahamian to carry identification with them, but if officers of the Immigration Department encounter you without such identification, you may find yourself in the Detention Centre regardless – even if the Immigration Act (Section 9) clearly stipulates that Immigration Officers do not have the power to arrest citizens or permanent residents.

To make matters worse, it is quite possible – and legal – for a citizen of the Bahamas to be undocumented. If you choose not to drive a land-based motor vehicle, you do not need a driver’s license. If you choose not to vote, you do not need a voter’s card. If you choose not to travel internationally, you do not need a passport. Even taking into consideration the recent introduction of the new National Insurance cards featuring the insured’s photograph, it must be pointed out that signing up for National Insurance is only mandatory for employed or self-employed persons, but not for unemployed persons, who may never choose to seek (self-)employment. (National Insurance Act, Section 12.)

Thus, Bahamians should not fool themselves into believing that they stand to benefit from the current administration’s actions. Their civil liberties as citizens of the Bahamas are being eroded by this “policy” purportedly directed at – and against – immigrants. Human Rights lawyer Fred Smith of the Grand Bahama Human Rights Association (GBHRA), makes a strong argument for this scenario in a lengthy response to the Punch’s Nicki Kelly, which he published on Facebook.

Smith asserts that in the Bahamas, too often, “might makes right.” Part of the problem is that the Westminster System of parliamentary democracy, inherited from our colonisers, was not designed for a body politic as small as ours. In a parliamentary democracy, the elected parliament is supposed to control the executive branch of government, and reign in any abuses of power that may occur. In the Bahamian manifestation of the Westminster System, however, parliament is too small to play that role. After the last election and by-election in 2012, the PLP was left with 30 of the 38 seats in the House of Assembly. Of those 30 MPs on the government side, before minimal re-shufflings and/or firings, every single one of them was not just an MP, but also a cabinet minister, parliamentary secretary, speaker, ambassador or chairman of a government corporation. The way the spoils were distributed thus ensured that instead of parliament controlling the executive, the executive now controls parliament. In reality, the Bahamian Westminster System is therefore a Tyranny of Cabinet.

With both the official opposition of the FNM as well as the extra-parliamentary opposition of the DNA jumping on the populist bandwagon, political relief from these infringements on our civil and human rights appears unlikely. It can only be hoped that legal recourse can be found through the courts, which in the past have already ruled some features, such as roadblocks (or “checkpoints,” the Ministry’s euphemism), of this New Immigration Policy unlawful.


4 responses to “The so-called New so-called Immigration so-called Policy

  1. Happy New Year and good day Mr. Aranha. I just found your blog and have only read one other article which I found informative and entertaining. I feel the need to set the record straight on this particular issue if you would be kind enough to bear with me. (You know I’m long winded.)

    With all due respect, you failed to address the real reason this situation finally needed to be addressed which was an interview by local media of a young man of Haitian descent who made inflammatory statements potentially affecting the nation’s security. His angry rant on camera was seen as a possible threat. No government worth its salt could ignore the “Columbian necktie” or “there are more of us than you” remarks. Anyone with common sense would be concerned similar views may be held by his peers, giving rise to fears of future insurrection. You also appear to be missing (or ignoring) the other pertinent points regarding the PLP’s decision to enforce our immigration laws, which are to protect our sovereignty and culture, (both of which remain in jeopardy) as well as alleviating unemployment for Bahamians and permanent residents with full status. There’s little doubt the recent repatriation exercise was recommended by major players like the US and UN after the aforementioned interview could be viewed locally and internationally causing controversy and speculation regarding the possibility of civil unrest. Naturally, Bahamians and legal residents were upset, and our government felt the need to take the necessary precautions to ensure everyone remained safe, while reminding those who may mean us harm who’s unequivocally in charge. As is the case with escalating crime, our electorate expect to be reassured by the powers that be their safety is of utmost importance.

    I see no reference to any particular points of Bahamian law in this article which leads me to conclude you may be referencing international law. When one considers Fred Mitchell has practiced law here for decades it seems unlikely he would take any deliberate action in breach of them. Your critique of VAT is moot considering the fact all three political leaders (Hubert Ingraham under the previous FNM) were all in support of its eventual implementation. All were painfully aware VAT (or some alternate form of taxation) was inevitable after signing international treaties supporting it. Like numerous other countries The Bahamas is obligated to comply or lose credibility with the IMF and World Bank causing the devaluation of our currency. Likewise the gambling referendum was nothing but an overpriced ill-conceived opinion poll. I read your article on it and felt it was an excellent analysis of policies and decisions made by an amoral PLP government bereft of shame or integrity, and always reluctant to make full disclosure. While I agree with your position on this topic, I see no correlation with our concerns over the effect of illegal migration.)

    Having met our Minister of Immigration and Foreign Affairs I found him to be a gracious and humble gentleman. Keeping this in mind I doubt it was ever his intention to infringe upon the rights of minorities. Failed referendums and VAT have nothing to do with an issue of national security, or a necessary response to our nation’s desperate fiscal condition. Sadly, the problem isn’t just a weak economy but an electorate that clearly feels undermined by an ever increasing large group with little to no regard for the natives of their host nation. There’s no tyranny involved in enforcing the laws of this land, especially when the majority of citizens support it. How simplistic to call the masses xenophobic in an attempt to marginalize them and promote a liberal agenda. I expect some of our elites may be among the dissenters. I imagine they enjoy having their caretakers and gardeners working for little or nothing; but what of Bahamian families struggling to survive? Are they concerned about those whose homes are in foreclosure due to unemployment? Is it not reasonable to assume that Bahamians will work for minimum wage rather than be unable to feed their families? I must then conclude you are comfortable financially, and have difficulty comprehending the harsh reality of what many Bahamians and legal residents now call “the struggle”. It appears you’re unwilling to acknowledge the PLP understand the concept of self preservation and survival, even as it pertains to their party. I’m sure they’re painfully aware voters will respond negatively at the polls if jobs aren’t created, crime is still out of control, and they’re unable to get our failing economy back on track. Foreigners and Bahamians alike who’ve lived here since independence can attest to the cordial relationship we’ve had with Haitians for decades, as they’ve been an integral part of our history. Most of us have been gracious and tolerant to a fault.

    Unfortunately too many boundaries have been crossed and now a sector of society (Legal Haitians and Bahamians of Haitian descent) has forgotten they (or their parents or grandparents) were once “guests” in The Bahamas. In many cases after being afforded every privilege and opportunity over the years, gratitude and humility has given way to entitlement and arrogance. This has become a source of aggravation for most Bahamians renowned for their easy going disposition. It’s unclear in your commentary which “citizens” you feel have been asked to “trade in their constitutional rights” and what rights in particular. (Clarification is useful in discerning our message unless it’s our intention to confuse.)

    Being a British expatriate married to a Bahamian has given me the opportunity to remain objective. Even my Bahamian spouse and children caused me to acknowledge that no matter how much I love this country I’m a native of Scotland and may never be fully accepted. All people are Xenophobic to a degree, and I suspect the term was no doubt created by a liberal in the early twentieth century when the world was going through dramatic changes. Humans are naturally suspicious of strangers considering never talking to them is one of the first rules we impose on our children at an early age. Therefore, why be surprised when residents object to the overbearing behavior of those who don’t wish to conform to our culture and social norms? Trust is never an automatic response. As an expat I too consider myself a migrant, but have never broken any laws here or in my birthplace. I’ve always been passionate about this issue as it took a little over a decade under Loftus Roker to obtain full permanent resident status with the right to gainful employment. Sadly, by that time we had three children and for practical reasons I remained a homemaker. While thousands were sneaking into The Bahamas and working illegally, my husband was sole breadwinner with four dependents. We had no friends in high places looking out for us. However, I remained steadfast in my resolve not to break our labor laws during the tedious wait. There was no favoritism or greasing of palms, just a long often frustrating process. Toward the conclusion I was treated in a humiliating manner by the RBPF who claimed to be “checking my fingerprints” when I went to collect a police certificate prior to a final interview. Only after treating me like a common criminal was I informed someone with the same name and date of birth was on file, which seemed strange considering it was “the eleventh hour”. This was done while my three frightened little boys (the youngest was a baby) were made to wait, and no apology was offered at any juncture. However, to my dismay I discovered my original birth certificate had gone missing during this entire laborious process. Since sharing these facts it shouldn’t be hard to appreciate why I find it unacceptable to hear supporters of illegal migrants excusing their criminal activity. I now find it especially offensive when it infringes on the rights of citizens and is literally taking the bread out of the mouths of our children. Liberal supporters and affluent successful Bahamians, Americans, Canadians and others of Haitian extraction making waves and constantly denigrating The Bahamas, should be asked to accept entire families as guests in their homes or sit small.

    Thirty six years after arriving and embracing this country and its rich culture I’ve never felt the urge to wave the saltire and brag about Scotland, or its rich history and beautiful landscapes and so forth. There’s never been an occasion when I felt my loyalty had to be shared with the place of my birth; that includes major events like the Olympic Games. This doesn’t seem to be the case with anyone that has ties to Haiti even when born and raised elsewhere. (I suggest studies should be done on the cause of such a phenomenon.)

    What has been (and hopefully) continues to be done is the lawful detention of undocumented migrants of all nationalities with the intention of regularizing those with the right to remain. In this way we can eventually (possibly through the use of the new NI cards and other photo ID), get an accurate number of legal migrants in future censuses rather than making estimates. All undocumented foreigners were warned in advance of this necessary exercise which should have been happening from the inception of our constitution. They were also advised by our government prior to the destruction of shanty towns which were built illegally with no regard for our building codes. Those who chose to ignore such warnings have no right to make threats on a populace that’s justifiably troubled over their survival and now possible aggression. Recent calls for boycotting, unreasonable behavior and assertions (which usually appear to hold no merit) of inhumane treatment, only attest to the vindictive mentality of many of these ungrateful folk. Even after the passage of decades I know my place, and would never take my status here as a “given”. Our migrant population got out of hand due to corrupt activities within the system and political reasons prior to our general elections. The founding fathers of our constitution formulated our laws on citizenship understanding the serious implications of a population explosion due to uncontrolled illegal migration and resulting generations of unregulated migrants. They envisioned then what we know now, that protecting the borders of a small archipelagic nation would be challenging, and ignoring unfettered migration would cause havoc economically and socially and is unsustainable.

    As a consequence of Fred Mitchell’s actions the Haitian community and their supporters here and overseas have responded negatively and aggressively. No other group has shown the same amount of animosity and contempt for a country that has afforded them so much. They were welcomed by The Bahamian people even while their focus was almost always on sending funds home while usurping as much as possible from consecutive governments. They have been afforded liberties that no other foreign group has requested. Others have happily embraced our culture and become patriots. Haitians now have Creole speaking radio shows, and a designated flag day. Some have even disrespected our flag publicly. Also, it seems in the opinion of many outspoken persons of Haitian extraction The Bahamas is inferior to their beloved homeland and our children are lacking in intellect compared to theirs. Having witnessed this kind of diatribe and far worse on social media, it confounds many Bahamians and legal residents why they fight so bitterly to remain here. Now the objective of many is to damage our fragile economy further by destroying tourism, calling for visitors to boycott us. This can only be considered a nonsensical response when your fellow legal Haitian brothers and sisters will be the first casualties if employers are forced to cut back?

    Our deplorable fiscal condition is obviously not just the result of mass illegal migration. However, it’s a significantly important part of the equation and should have been addressed long ago. Solving our illegal migrant problem is the single most significant action the PLP has taken since taking office; yet using an aphorism you seem to condone illegal activity. In cases like this where the needs of the majority must be foremost in the minds of our parliamentarians and judiciary, might is ABSOLUTELY right. Arguments made regarding lack of identification citing drivers licenses, passports and NI cards are farfetched and seem reminiscent of someone clutching at straws in order to justify their position. If a Haitian has no passport it speaks volumes, since their country’s laws state by virtue of parentage (generational.) regardless of birthplace they’re Haitian and entitled to apply for a passport. Our law is reasonable and clear, stating migrant children born here can apply for a Bahamian passport upon reaching the age of 18. Considering what I endured to gain status there should be equality. However, any adjustment to our laws regarding citizenship should reflect a change to the effect children of the foreign wife of Bahamian men should be subject to the same regulations as women. This gives the adult child the option to make an informed choice. Had this been the case my children would have dual citizenship today. (I rarely visited the UK and while I considered applying never did, which was short sighted.) Your passport and suchlike argument has no value in the debate. I recall seeing a Bahamian comment on social media about the huge numbers of Haitians they saw waiting on line to receive their new NI card as a form of ID. It’s unlikely persons willing to risk their lives taking a lengthy journey, packed like sardines onto a substandard wooden sloop, are arriving on our shores for a leisurely vacation. Their intention after securing a place of abode is undoubtedly to find gainful employment thereby breaking another law after clandestine entry. There are many variables as to how many laws are possibly being broken after an illegal migrant arrives on our shores. The most common infractions are the following; persons assisting and harboring, granting employment, no contribution to NI, and their own action in sending funds home, thereby encouraging further migration.

    Constant criticism of our detention center is grossly unfair when one considers illegal migrants used to be incarcerated along with felons in Fox Hill Prison. The facility they’re housed in now meets international standards and taxpayers are burdened with all costs including deportation by air. No government could have anticipated the mass migration of Haitians that would follow the tragic earthquake (2010) in Haiti. While you search for reasons to make lawbreakers “victims” the REAL victims today are Bahamians who’ve supported the Haitian community for decades but are now suffering. It’s the season of pulling up our bootstraps and taking care of our own first. Native Bahamians are in danger of becoming second class citizens in their own country. There’s also the likelihood they could lose their identity and be destined to struggle more with each generation. You sir, are not a patriot. (Not of this country it seems.)

    The nagging question one must ask is how much “life experience” one should have if they expect their argument to be considered seriously. I humbly recommend interaction with the less fortunate in our inner cities or out islands if you wish to insinuate yourself into the politics of this country by speaking on behalf of those affecting their quality of life detrimentally. After a little over 40 years of independence we MUST NOT be compared to the US, Canada, Australia, and Europe. The Bahamas is as unique in nature’s design as are its friendly laid back natives. Our foreign policy should reflect what’s practical and effective for a small developing nation, not what others feel is politically correct.

    There’s a great deal that’s not been working well for this nation socially and politically for a long time, and I won’t use this forum to make a long list of failures on the part of the PLP and FNM. I find it disingenuous to continually make reference to The Bahamas as a democracy as though our leaders are obliged to govern using European liberal policies. Most of “us” (patriots) are comfortable with democratic principles but are entrenched in Christian theology, though some don’t always practice what they preach. Whether one agrees or has no inclination toward religious doctrine, it’s prudent to be respectful of the choice of the majority. The meaning of the word in itself necessitates tolerance rather than arrogant dissent; we must also be cognizant of the “might” of those who are far greater in number. Effective governance has little to do with following laws espoused by other nations and is about protecting and serving the citizenry, and providing a healthy environment along with a decent quality of life.

    We have no control over Haiti, its politics and the thousands of citizens opting to emigrate illegally. Why make it seem like our government must offer safe haven at the expense their own, especially when so many legal residents are striving in an already depressed economy. If bleeding heart liberals are genuinely concerned they should ask the rich who enjoy luxurious lifestyles to support and house them in or near their gated communities? Sadly, middle class families have found themselves subjected to an increasing number of unsightly shanty towns often with no sanitation, and utilities possibly obtained through illegal means. After making the biggest investment of their lives the former are paying taxes and a mortgage, while the latter contribute nothing but the possibility of disease while decreasing the value of their neighbors’ costly homes. I’m not without empathy for the plight of Haitians, but their oppression (for the most part) has been political due to a system that panders to its elite, and leaders whose only thought is for monetary gain and power. Unlike the average Syrian refugee and others plagued by civil war their risk of being killed is negligible. The power to make changes is within them as it is with us. Loyalty and love of one’s country means resolving to fight back against tyranny, oppression and injustice. When the chips are down a patriot becomes a critical thinker using common sense, ingenuity, and most of all hard graft, to fix what’s been broken and forge ahead in the hope of creating a better life for future generations. There has never been a more profound and suitable quote during this world recession than the famous words of JFK; “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

    • To begin with, Mr. Aly’s unfortunate comments (“Colombian necktie”) came after the “New Immigration Policy” had already been announced. Therefore, claiming that Fred Mitchell’s practices are a justified reaction to it, is confusing cause and effect.

      Then, laws I maintain are incompatible with these new practices aren’t “international laws,” but very Bahamian ones, such as the Constitution or the Immigration Act. Furthermore, Fred Smith, QC has pointed to numerous Supreme Court (Bahamas) decisions that have ruled elements of the “NIP” unconstitutional, such as random roadblocks. Mitchell himself admitted that, for instance, the Detention Centre operates in a legal void.

      Finally, most of your claims regarding the problems caused by the presence of undocumented migrants, while repeatedly heard in the media, have never been proven by data derived from actual research. Basing national laws and policies on anecdotal evidence is irresponsible.

  2. Here are some other points of reference I missed.

    We now see the alarming result of casual open border policies in Europe after the recent invasion of the offices of Charlie Hebdo where 12 people were murdered simply for “freedom of expression” in a satirical publication, not to mention (often violent) riots in various metropolitan cities elsewhere. I haven’t checked the statistics on how their education or welfare system has been affected by this burden but the aggressive nature of many next generation migrants (once they feel well established) has undoubtedly taken its toll. We constantly read about a growing number of outspoken radicals trying to enforce Sharia Law by any means necessary. Our concerns are less extreme but equally relevant, and we know our education system, hospital authority and social services have been overburdened due to the constant onslaught of migration. Of particular concern (even while impoverished) is the apparent need to take the expression “Go forth and multiply.” to extremes. When primary schools are hard pressed to find a place for Bahamian children who are increasingly outnumbered by students with difficulty speaking English, we can’t expect any better. Imagine the frustration of teachers with such a dilemma. They’re expected to stick to a time schedule while ensuring students are learning what’s been set forth in their curriculum, yet some are still struggling with reading comprehension. This likely means bright Bahamian students become bored and playful, losing interest in all aspects of early education. Once again given such a scenario it seems unreasonably biased to blame our governments for our D average when classrooms in our public schools may have almost double the prescribed capacity. Again affluent members of society must step up to the plate and actively take part in alleviating this social problem.

    The Bahamian electorate must decide who should lead them toward security and prosperity in 2017. It’s my sincere hope one day we’ll remove our antiquated Westminster style of governance along with its equally ancient and flawed system of jurisprudence. Having said this I’d like to remind everyone that citizenship for any foreign national is not a right but a privilege, and as such should only be conferred upon true patriots willing to put the country they’ve adopted first in their heart and mind. I can’t wrap my head around the disloyalty of residents who find flimsy reasons against the legal repatriation of ALL illegal aliens. To me it’s ludicrous for anyone to advocate changes to our constitution and laws making a passport as easy to obtain as a driver’s license. Such folk either have an agenda separate from the immigration issue, or have no more love for The Bahamas than those of Haitian descent intent on tearing this country down. Make no mistake; the aforementioned undoubtedly don’t give a rat’s behind about the trials of working class or impoverished Bahamians. For them citizenship is simply a means to an end.

  3. Pingback: The So-Called Haitian Problem: Our Big Lie and the Cultural Attitudes That Sustain It - Noelle Khalila Nicolls

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