By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Staff Reporter
A NATIONAL ID card could unravel the complex and contentious issue of regularisation for persons born in the Bahamas to migrants.
As Cabinet reviews the proposal for an integrated identity card, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration Fred Mitchell said the government will have to find a way to accommodate the large number of people living in the country without status.
Mr Mitchell said the card should not be mandatory and should be implemented as soon as possible, and he highlighted civil liberty implications and the public demand for heightened security and enforcement.
He said an Israeli firm has already expressed interest in being a vendor for the system, which reportedly cost US $2 million to implement in Panama.
Mr Mitchell said: “Technically the law requires those [unregularised] persons to have a residency permit of some kind, but it’s not been enforced. What happens now is that as long as you are born in the Bahamas up until the age of 18 it’s presumed that you have a right to reside, and so immigration authorities don’t interfere with that but if you look at the law technically speaking those persons are non-citizens and they should have a permit to reside.”
He added: “So in the current atmosphere all of these things are going to be discussed and we have to find a way to accommodate the fact of the presence of so many people in that position and see how the laws and regulations have to adjust to make life uncomplicated.”
More than 60 countries use mandatory ID cards, and fewer than 20 countries offer a non-compulsory card.
Panama contracted 3M Security Systems Division to produce a new national ID card in 2010. 3M Security Systems were also contracted to produce minor ID cards and foreigner ID cards.
Mr Mitchell said: “When I was in Panama there was a presentation made by an Israeli firm who wants to be a vendor for the system, and they said when implementing it in Panama they spent US $2 million.
“The card in Panama is free for the first time, if you lose it, it becomes $10. So it’s not terribly expensive per person”
Last September, National Security Minister Bernard Nottage said “the time has come” for the country to consider the introduction of such a card, considering the Bahamas’ long-standing illegal migration problem.
Mr Mitchell said the technology for a national ID card is in place, but national ID cards bring up the issue of civil liberties.
He said: “There is a demand from the public about security and to know who is in the Bahamas. I’m always cognisant of the civil liberty implications of these things because it’s an intrusion on your right to move around with someone asking you for an identity card. Perhaps one of the ways around this issue is that the card might not be mandatory, but can be definitive.”
He said: “What I mean by that is it will have information which definitively says you’re Bahamian or that you have a right to be in the Bahamas, so that when you present yourself there is not a problem. Other documents would present a problem so it’s in your interest to have it, as opposed to mandating it and saying you have to have it otherwise you’re in breach of some law.”
Mr Mitchell added: “All of these issues have to be amply discussed before we say this is the way we’re gonna go on this.”