By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
IMMIGRATION Director William Pratt yesterday warned migrants not to attempt to use their children as a “passport” to illegally reside in the Bahamas.
Firing back at criticism of Saturday’s apprehension exercises, Mr Pratt explained that several children picked up over the weekend had been abandoned by their guardians, some who had left the minors in the home with a stove on.
He praised officers for taking the minors into protective custody, and urged the public to evaluate both sides before condemning officials.
Mr Pratt confirmed that 228 Haitians were repatriated from the Carmichael Road Detention Centre on two Bahamas Air flights yesterday. He estimated that there were some 100 persons still at the facility.
He said that spot checks throughout the country will continue in an attempt to rid the country of illegal immigrants.
“On social media they are showing photos of Immigration officers lifting up a child, I commend my officers on taking the children into protective custody,” he said.
“They (officers) went to the home, and the parents or guardians fled the scene and left a pot on the stove. They left the children unattended and I applaud them (the officers) because if we walked off and something happened to the kids, if a fire occurred, then they would blame the Department of Immigration.
“The officers did an excellent job of taking them into protective custody for parents to collect them, and the parents came,” he added.
“Hear the other side of the story, the officers handled it in decency and in order.”
The handling of minors has been a major concern after images and video of children being led away by Immigration officers spread over social media over the weekend.
In one of the videos, which was circulated online, a child in a soiled diaper was seen in the arms of an Immigration officer.
Yesterday, Mr Pratt could not confirm the number of children at the centre; however, he said that women and children were given priority during repatriation.
“People are taking it (the pictures) out of context,” he said.
“You can’t just see an officer holding a child and say we’re grabbing children arbitrarily and throwing them in the bus. If we go to the house and a female is there and is illegal, she would be arrested and the children will have to go with her.
“Having a child in the Bahamas is not a passport to remain illegal in the Bahamas. Under my watch, that will not happen. What we want them to do is to regularise themselves, get themselves sorted out if they want to remain in the Bahamas, that’s all we’re saying.
“They (illegal migrants) believe if they have a child, that they have an automatic right to remain here, that is not so.”
Mr Pratt explained that the repatriation of children born in the Bahamas to illegal immigrants did not forfeit their right to apply for citizenship at the age of 18, adding that the children were not stateless because they assumed the nationality of their parents.
Responding to claims that schoolchildren were apprehended last week, Mr Pratt maintained that officers did not go into schools. However, he said that some parents notify officers that they have children, and in these cases, they are escorted to collect students at the end of the school day.
“Most of the times they (migrants) don’t tell us they have children,” he said, “because they feel that this will cause the child to be deported as well. They just contact next of kin and let them know.”
He pointed out that not every person that is held at the detention centre is deported, adding that some persons are picked up because they are delinquent in permit fees and released once the matter is settled.
As he defended his 39-year tenure at the Immigration Department, Mr Pratt said: “We’re going to continue to do spot checks in every district, on every island. If we suspect anyone, we will interrogate them, and if they are illegal they will be taken into custody. It will continue as long as there are illegal immigrants, we are not targeting any specific nationality, it is any and every nationality, if you are here illegally you are subject to be arrested and deported.”
He added: “It’s an international detention centre, we sometimes have Canadians and Americans there, we don’t believe in discrimination against colour or nationality.”
Saturday’s round up of illegal immigrants coincided with the start of the government’s new immigration policies.