By SANCHESKA BROWN
Tribune Staff Reporter
FOREIGN Affairs Minister Fred Mitchell denied yesterday that the Bahamian government is involved in the smuggling of illegal migrants to the United States.
In fact, Mr Mitchell said the government is working closely with all US agencies to combat human smuggling and trafficking of persons.
Mr Mitchell also dismissed reports the United States is concerned about its border security, given the amount of immigrants that are smuggled from the Bahamas to Florida every year.
His comments came after US Border Patrol Operations Officer Frank Miller told the Tribune, investigations have proved there are links between smuggling operations and “known criminal organisations in the Bahamas.”
He said: “We think it is just because of the vicinity of the Bahamas to the United States. So these different organisations are working out of the Bahamas, that is what our intelligence is telling us. It is usually from all over the place, but because Palm Beach County is closest to Grand Bahama and West End and Freeport. That is where we believe the activity is coming from,” he said.
“There is still a concern on the national security side as well as our concern that these boat captains have very little regard for the safety of these migrants. They overload the boats and many times do not have enough life vests.”
However, addressing Parliamentarians in the House of Assembly, Mr Mitchell denied these claims.
“The statement which appeared in the newspaper indicates that an officer, it appears one of the domestic police forces, indicated that they have concerns about criminal organisations in the Bahamas smuggling people to the United States. I spoke with the Attorney General this morning, who happened yesterday to be speaking to the US Charge d’affaires to seek some clarification about this, to find out whether this is in fact the view of the United States government and the best advice I have is this is not the view of the United States government and there may be some further explanation coming,” he said.
“However, I do wish to say that the Bahamas is where it is geographically related to the United States and we are aware that there is smuggling from time to time going on between this country and the US. What I do want to say is, first of all the Bahamas government is in no way connected with or is complicit in smuggling to the US from this country. We know that our law enforcement agencies have been working tirelessly to try and combat this as recently as within the last seven days. A lot of persons were apprehended in, what appears to be, an attempt to be smuggled into the United States
“So it is an ongoing exercise and the Bahamas government is committing all of its resources to fight this issue. We are in constant contact with both the intelligence arm of the US and the law enforcement agencies, both at a federal and a state level, on trying to combat this issue. We discourage it and it is a foul practice and I want to make it absolutely clear that that is the position of the Bahamas government on this matter and we will continue to do all we can to fight smuggling and trafficking of persons from this country.”
Earlier this week, 14 suspected illegal immigrants were taken into custody after coming ashore near MacArthur Beach State Park in North Palm Beach.
The group is believed to have been smuggled to Florida from the Bahamas and includes 12 Haitians, one person from the Dominican Republic and one Indian national.
Last week, almost a dozen Haitian migrants were taken into custody by US Border Patrol over a two day period.
These migrants were also suspected of being a part of a smuggling operation from the Bahamas.