By ADRIAN GIBSON
THE Bahamas appears to have an unfocused immigration strategy, with politicians seemingly adopting a deer-in-the-headlights outlook whilst fretfully pondering the political risks of possibly offending an emerging, purportedly independent “new generation” of voters (offspring of migrants) and satisfying the anti-illegal immigrant stance of traditional Bahamian voters.
Of late, the immigration policies of the Bahamas have not been enunciated and the department has seemingly adopted a more reactive than proactive approach, diverting much of its resources to apprehension and repatriation exercises.
Immigration enforcement is imperative!
Illegal immigration is far more complex than mere round-ups and repatriations. In this country, immigration is an emotive and divisive issue that leaves many Bahamians hyperventilating and demanding waves of apprehensions and deportations.
The current approach to immigration has manifestly failed. That said, the country’s human capital is lagging and we therefore must not adopt an anti-immigrant outlook in today’s increasingly globalized society.
The Department of Immigration must allot resources to properly educating foreigners on legal ways to access this country, particularly those whose frequent attempts at repeated illegal re-entry make repatriation efforts seem like a futile endeavour. We must become conscious of the complexities of illegal immigration and cease our one-dimensional approach to immigration.
Moreover, the Department of Labour should conduct an inventory of the country’s labour needs, granting work permits to incorporate immigrants into a labour system where there are shortages or a lack of local expertise. Quite honestly, a scientific approach should be taken to gauge the number of immigrants, particularly as Haitians are hardly the only foreign nationals illegally violating our sovereign space and it can assist with policy formation.
Currently, there are more immigrants–many illegal–on Abaco than native Bahamians. I’m also informed that in areas such as Rock Crusher (New Providence), the majority of residences are occupied by Haitians, rented to them by unscrupulous Bahamians who charge ridiculous rates, contingent upon a head count. Pockets of Carmichael, Joe Farrington Roads, Over-the-Hill and Cowpen Road remain hotbeds for illegal immigrants.
According to a recent New York Times report, addressing the latest changes to Arizona state’s immigration laws, the law “called for (police) officers to check a person’s immigration status while enforcing other laws and that required immigrants to carry their papers at all times.”
The NY Times report further states:
“The law also makes it a state crime–a misdemeanour–to not carry immigration papers. In addition, it allows people to sue local government or agencies if they believe federal or state immigration law is not being enforced.”
I support the notion of a greater and closer coordination between the Royal Bahamas Defence Force, Immigration officers and the Royal Bahamas Police Force in the fight against illegal immigration. Locally, imposing new requirements of police officers related to the enforcement of our immigration laws is an aspect of the Arizona law worth adopting. A few years ago, when I travelled to Europe, my hosts advised that I constantly travel with my passport as it is a practice–in places such as France, Holland and Germany, etc–for police to request identification and documentation on highways, trains and buses.
In November 2006, current Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham said that immigration raids almost exclusively target poor black neighbourhood, while wealthy individuals who “pay to play” are not required to have their immigration applications scrutinized. Indeed, whilst Haitians constitute the largest bloc of illegal and legal immigrants, there are certain classes of immigrants (usually white collar workers)–Americans, Chinese, Canadians, Europeans–who get a free pass.
The Prime Minister has also promised to revisit the Immigration Act and its accompanying regulations while proposing amendments to foster transparency relative to various aspects of the processes at the Department of Immigration.
Immigration–particularly the influx of Haitian immigrants–has been a strain on our social systems and public resources. From the 18th century to the mid-20ths century, the interaction between Haitians and Bahamians was mostly by trade. Based upon statistics presented in an academic paper by Patricia Dorsette, the steady stream of Haitian migrants began in 1948.
Over time, Haitians have become itinerant travellers whose powerful ambition to escape their bleak circumstances has become a burden on their neighbours.
The global economic downturn and recent tragic earthquake has made the economic prospects for Haitians seem even gloomier.
Following the catastrophic earthquake in Port-au-Prince, Prime Minister Ingraham decided to temporarily grant status (for six months) to the Haitian migrants housed at the Detention Centre. At that time, the PM’s decision to release the Haitians – even with temporary status – was met with a chorus of dissent and questions about its legality as local radio talk shows were bombarded by livid callers. Indeed, outright disbelief and cynicism was expressed in some quarters about the Prime Minister’s decision.
Last month, six months had passed since the Haitian earthquake and the granting of an amnesty. However, little has been said about the whereabouts of those immigrants who were released from the detention centre under the premise of a compassionate amnesty.
Over the century or so, Haiti has been overwhelmed by abject and systemic poverty, desolation, a wretched economy and unsavoury regimes. Frankly, that nation’s history has been marked by violence and turmoil. After a disheveled band of rebels defeated Napoleon’s army and became the first nation established by slaves, the French contributed to Haiti’s underdevelopment by demanding a large, unjust indemnity for the loss of slaves.
Haiti is on the brink of anarchy, falling deeper into the abyss of impoverishment that many have tried so desperately to avoid.
Bahamians are apprehensive about an invasion of Haitians, as there is little doubt among the general populace that rickety sloops – with countless Haitians wedged in their bellies in scenes reminiscent of the slave trade–are doggedly making the trek to the Bahamas from this ravaged land.
In the Bahamas, the crux of the matter regarding undocumented Haitians is the numbers, particularly as the inner city and some family island settlements are swollen with migrants – many of whom are here illegally. Today, they comprise a sizeable percentage of the work force, working many low-end jobs that Bahamians reject and/or working for lower wages (e.g. construction, agriculture, cooks, house cleaners/maids, yard work, etc).
Indeed, the government must enforce the law and revoke the business licenses of persons hiring all illegal immigrants, threatening them with a prison sentence and, in the case of repeat offenders, seizing businesses. Traffickers of illegal migrants must be charged with treason while the migrants themselves should be charged with misdemeanours or felonies, depending upon the specifics of their offences which can vary from illegal entry charges to much more. Moreover, heavy fines should be levied against landlords who rent to and harbour these individuals.
The Department of Immigration must begin conducting “silent raids”, reviewing the files of businesses suspected of hiring illegal immigrant workers and conducting worksite round-ups. Immigration officers can start at almost any construction site! According to the NY Times, the Obama administration has taken on the imitative of “silent raids”, forcing “businesses to fire every suspected illegal immigrant on payroll.”
Indeed, there is a pressing need for an overhaul of our immigration laws whilst biting the bullet and granting legal status to the children of immigrants. It appears that we have no other choice but to face reality and address the regularization and incorporation of qualifying persons into our society.
The department must also allot resources to properly educating foreigners on legal ways to access this country, particularly those whose frequent attempts at repeated illegal re-entry make repatriation efforts seem like a futile endeavour.
In addition to a country-wide immigration dragnet, cracking down on human smuggling and intensifying immigration enforcement at all likely entrance points into the Bahamas–from Inagua to Abaco to Lyford Cay, etcetera–is of the essence. Continuous Defense Force patrols should be carried out throughout the archipelago and around the entire perimeter of New Providence–the Bahamas’ main illegal immigrant hotspot. Because the Bahamas has an extensive, porous border–particularly to the south–the government should seek to purchase (or pursue donations of) unmanned surveillance drones and helicopters to police the border (the helicopter/s can also be utilized for police pursuits). Moreover, road blocks and random boarding and inspections of passengers onboard jitneys should be undertaken by Immigration officers in their pursuit of undocumented immigrants.
What’s more, a more comprehensive vetting and investigation process should be undertaken when granting and renewing work permits. Further, senior executives and other high-level or white collar foreign workers must be required to pay a much higher fee for work permits than that which is paid for maids and farmhands. In maintaining proper, internationally-accepted profiles, the Department of Immigration should also seek to fingerprint persons entering the country for work-related purposes.
In the next week or so, I intend to visit a Haitian shanty town–with a Creole-speaking handler–to see, and document, migration as it’s viewed from their perspective.