By Paul Thompson, Sr
In March, 1951 I joined the Royal Bahamas Police Force where I served 30 years and continued my service as a police reserve. I am still connected to the force and will be eternally grateful for the education and other benefits derived.
I was taught by experts from the Bahamas and from Overseas where I had the opportunity to attend training courses. In this document I wish to bring to the attention of this nation a very serious security concern, that is not being given the priority it deserves.
I write on the subject of illegal immigration, which is a very sensitive issue in our Bahamas. It has been a major problem for government for decades. Public concern has always been over the loss of jobs, the abuse of our public schools and hospitals by persons, who make no contribution to government revenue, the vast increase in population, the increase in crime, cost to government for increased sea patrols, detention facilities and repatriation. There is another concern, that ought to be uppermost in our minds – crime and terrorism.
About two years ago law-enforcement officers, security directors, public servants and others attended a week long-seminar on terrorism, that was hosted by the Ministry of Tourism and the Royal Bahamas Police Force. The lecturers were experts on the topics discussed. At the end of the seminar many of us were of the view that all of our Members of Parliament should have attended the seminar so that they could be exposed to the lectures on the dangers of terrorism. We were taught that a terrorist is an individual or group, who are ideologically inspired to unlawfully use force or violence against persons or property to further their own political or social objectives. They are trained to blend in and assimilate to their surroundings. Their acts are well organised and well planned. They conduct training, surveillance and dry runs prior to commission of a terrorist act. They like to strike at governmental and civilian targets in an effort to instil fear. They move into your country unknown to you, rent apartments in transient areas and in new developments where persons are unconcerned about their identities.
It is important that they arrive in your country unidentified and undocumented. In our country we have an illegal population of thousands. Most of these persons arrived here illegally. They are unidentified and undocumented residents of our country. These person reside and work in most of our islands. Yet, we do not know who they are. There is no register, no photograph or fingerprint records. A terrorist attack is committed when three conditions are met:
a) The individual/group possesses the desire to commit the terrorist attack.
b)The individual/group possesses the ability to commit the terrorist attack.
c) The individual/group is afforded the opportunity to commit the terrorist attack.
We cannot control either the terrorist’s desire or ability to commit the terrorist attack. We can, however, limit his or her opportunity to commit a terrorist act by remaining diligent and vigilant at our borders and in identifying criminal behaviour, which must be reported to our law enforcement agencies immediately. There must be a “Zero Tolerance” approach to our illegal immigrant problem here as we may well have the enemy living among us. In the past and in recent years I had the opportunity to talk to cabinet ministers of both governments (Pindling-Ingraham-Christie-Ingraham) on the subject of illegal immigrants. In the following paragraphs are ideas and suggestions on how to deal with this frightening issue.
Bahamas Immigration Department:
The department must be enlarged to have its personnel working around the clock, in and out of office. Communication equipment, e.g., telephones, hand radios, etc, must be upgraded. Other law enforcement agencies must be on call to them for prompt assistance. The Department must have an Administrative Unit and an Enforcement Unit. Transportation by land, sea and air must be readily available. Make funds available to the department to pay for information and to develop a list of informants here and overseas. Ensure that immigration officers are aware that they have the same powers of arrests as police officers, in particular when investigating matters pertaining to illegal immigration. Give them the power to seize vehicles and boats transporting illegal immigrants. Make the Detention Centre more secure by heightening the fence to ten feet; a strong steel cable at the bottom and razor wire at the top; construct the fences about four feet apart; use trained guard dogs to run between the fences; instal two-way floodlights on “posts to improve lighting in the outer perimeter; instal two-way cameras on poles that would record any activity outside the fences and alert officials. These cameras would also record any such activity. Cameras to be monitored by personnel indoors; areas outside the fence must be cleared of all shrubbery to improve visibility and signs placed outside to prohibit trespassing.
The Government of The Bahamas
Legislation or government approval may be required to enforce the following:
a) Develop an identification card, with photograph, thumb or forefinger print full name and proper address, etc, for immigrants, who are born here. Give them some form of residential status, if they qualify. The ID card must be carried with them at all times for inspection by immigration officers. Card to be obtained after a full investigation to qualify the person to whom it is issued and a fee paid. National Insurance must be paid by all cardholders. Renewal of the card would be annual similar to the present work permit. Such cardholders will no longer have to apply for work permits. The card could be similar in size to the driver’s licence.
b) Develop a similar card in a different colour to replace the work permit. It is to be carried at all times by the worker and must have the same identifying features.
c) Government to set criteria for the issue of cards, e.g. no criminal convictions, etc. There must be a moratorium for the remaining illegal immigrants to present themselves to be registered in the country. Employers of such persons, who are desirous of retaining their services must come forward to make their cases to immigration authorities. Those immigrants who are accepted will be issued with the cards, that replaces the work permits. Others here illegally will face deportation. Legislation or approval will be required from The Bahamas Government to enforce the following procedures:
• All foreign persons seeking driver’s licences or the renewal of their driver’s licences must present evidence of their status in our country. (The ID card).
• All foreign persons seeking licensing of vehicles or renewals must present their ID cards. (In the case of persons residing, but not working here they must present evidence of their status, e.g. passport, immigration entry permit, etc),
• Children of foreigners attending schools here must have their parents register them at schools at which time the parents are to present evidence of their immigration status. In cases where the status of the person is unclear to the school administration the immigration department must be contact to deal with the matter.
• Foreign persons attending our medical institutions for treatment must produce evidence of their status. (The card). The medical treatment will not be denied, but medical authorities must inform the immigration department of the presence of such persons at the institution.
• All employers, who engage illegal immigrants must present themselves to the immigration department with the names and all information about their employees and make the necessary applications for approvals and the ID cards.
• Landlords must, by law be held responsible for renting premises to illegal immigrants. The landlords must demand ID cards from their tenants (the household). Premises must not be rented to illegal immigrants. Landlords must report any such persons to the immigration department.
• Banks and money transfer firms will only transfer money or do business with foreign customers, who present evidence of their status. Report any others to the immigration department.
• Immigration authorities must maintain accurate records of visitors from countries, whose nationals are known to ignore immigration laws and remain longer than was permitted. Such persons must be sought and prosecuted.
• Captains and crews of boats involved in human trafficking must be prosecuted expeditiously. Prison sentence and fine to be imposed and seizure of the boat mandatory. Captains and crew of these boats must not be taken to the detention centre. They must go to the jail.
• Eliminate squatting in the so-called “shanty towns” wherever they exist. Serve written notices on squatters giving them a date to leave the premises taking their property with them. Immediately after the expiry date have the police and bulldozers move in.
• Offer cash rewards for information leading to the apprehension of illegal immigrants.
• Prosecute all illegal immigrants, who had been previously deported and have returned to the country illegally. These procedures, if implemented and enforced would assist immensely in the registration and identification of unknown persons here.
The police and other law enforcement agencies would be able to acquire vital information in their fight against crime and to protect our country from terrorist attack. The large number of illegal immigrants come here from Haiti. Our government must hold top level talks with the Haitian government and the United States government. Both The Bahamas and the USA are involved. The agenda should include:
• The implementation of new measures to deal with illegal immigrants, eg; rewards to Haitian nationals, who would give information on human trafficking.
• Providing adequate cash rewards to such persons.
• Solicit support from the Haitian government to use its law enforcement agencies to apprehend persons involved in human trafficking.
• Discuss with the governments of the USA and Haiti the possibility of establishing joint patrols of the sea lanes outside of Haiti. The stopping and searching of boats leaving Haiti and the turn around of those boats carrying human cargo or illegal contraband. It is well known that many of the Haitian nationals leaving Haiti for The Bahamas are just in transit to the United States of America.
I pray that the government of The Bahamas and all concerned citizens consider the matters addressed in this article and use their influence to get something done about this ancient and frightening problem.