By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
THE government plans to table legislation on its new immigration policy when the parliament resumes this week, according to Foreign Affairs Minister Fred Mitchell.
Mr Mitchell charged that the controversial policy, which began on November 1, has an 85 per cent approval rating and unanimous support from all mainstream political parties.
While he noted that it was a unique and unprecedented phenomenon, the Fox Hill MP added that his ministry was very sensitive that the widespread consensus is not abused to the detriment of the country’s international reputation.
“While we are the guardians of the country, we have the responsibility to enforce the law,” he said, “but I always talk about balance. Not to be extreme, not to go overboard, always to be sure that our country’s reputation remains that of a humane place where people are treated fairly, regardless of the fact of an infraction.
“Immigration is aware of that, that they have to enforce the law strictly without fear or favour, but there is a mandate to be humane in all of their practices.”
The Fox Hill MP was asked to brief PLP delegates on the policy changes at a special ceremony to commemorate Prime Minister Perry
Christie’s 40th anniversary as a public servant last week.
He underscored the importance of passing legislation concerning new regulations for both the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Immigration.
“We have ourselves in the unique position of having an 85 per cent approval rating of this policy, which I think is unprecedented,” he said, “and we have the unanimous support of all of the political parties, the Progressive Liberal Party, the FNM and the DNA all support the policy.
“That is a unique position, one which we could not even accomplish with regard to the right to vote for women, but for immigration we appear all to be united. We are very sensitive to when you have a consensus of this nature, we are very sensitive to not abusing such a consensus. We are dealing with human beings.”
The new measures were announced in the House of Assembly on September 17, and have been criticised by several international human rights groups.
Mr Mitchell confirmed that there have been no reports of abuse concerning the conduct of immigration officers and congratulated officers on their professionalism. He said the government was considering the use of a separate facility to house detainees with children, adding that the current provision is to prioritise their deportation.
During an interview with The Tribune last month, Haitian Foreign Minister Duly Brutus said the Haitian government did not have the capacity to meet the demands for passports and stressed the need for governmental meetings over the impact of the new policy.
At the PLP headquarters on Friday, Mr Mitchell explained that Haitian president Michel Martelly confirmed that Haiti would be able to handle the demand for passports when he was informed of the policy during a visit to Nassau in July.
He added that Mr Brutus provided similar assurances when they spoke on the sidelines of the United Nations’ General Assembly in September.
Mr Mitchell said: “That’s a technical issue for them (Haiti). The point is everyone in this country (Bahamas) should have a passport of their nationality and so that is the requirement as of November 1. Immigration has a job to do, it is a policing job, it is not a very pleasant thing. It’s a blunt instrument but they are trained in the application of policies which are consistent with the constitution and they have a mandate to be humane in the application of the policies, and everyone is taught that.”
Mr Mitchell maintained that the new policy was not an attempt to target or single out a national group, but a national security measure focused on ensuring that all who live and work in the Bahamas were documented.
He added that all nationalities help to build the country.