By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
FOREIGN Affairs and Immigration Minister Fred Mitchell yesterday said he was “not concerned in the slightest” about Organisation of American States Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza’s “concern” about the Bahamas’ new immigration policies.
Mr Insulza, in an interview with the Jamaican Observer yesterday, reportedly expressed concern about the “rounding up” of illegal immigrants in the country.
His reported concerns came a day after Mr Mitchell told The Tribune that he would be holding discussions with Mr Insulza and the CARICOM caucus in Washington, DC, next week to clarify “misinformation” about the government’s controversial new immigration restrictions.
Mr Mitchell yesterday reaffirmed his intention to speak with Mr Insulza regarding the controversial policies, and the latter’s reported concerns.
Mr Mitchell also said the backlash resulting from the immigration exercises are the result of activists whose “stock-in-trade is creating alarm because they oppose the policy.”
“I’m not concerned or insulted at all,” Mr Mitchell said. “Not concerned in the slightest. I’m going to meet with Mr Insulza in about 10 days or so. But the thing is, you all keep referring to ‘round ups.’ There have been no round ups in the Bahamas. Whatever anyone says in connection to that has to be false as a first premise, because it is a false premise. There have been no round ups in the Bahamas at all.”
Mr Insulza is one of several people, local and international, who have worries about the immigration changes that took effect November 1. The day the changes took effect, immigration officers apprehended numerous illegal immigrants throughout New Providence. Some children were also taken into custody, however, government officials said they had been abandoned by their parents and put in protective care.
So far, the human rights group, Amnesty International, Florida lawmaker Daphne Campbell, Haitian Bahamian activist Jetta Baptiste, lawyer Fred Smith, president of the Grand Bahama Human Rights Association, and Mr Insulza have all publicly expressed concern about the new policy.
According to Mr Smith “the government’s mass round-up policy is unconstitutional and a flagrant violation of the fundamental concept that individuals are innocent until proven guilty.”
The heaviest criticism against the policy arguably came from Mrs Campbell, who was born in Haiti. She recently called for all tourists and international businesses to boycott the Bahamas over the immigration changes which she said discriminates against Haitian children.
Ms Baptiste said she supported Mrs Campbell’s call for a boycott “1,000 per cent.” She said the Haitian community was “simply tired of all the political games that have been played with (them) over the years.”
Amnesty International also expressed concern over the policies, fearing that they had led to human rights violations.
Standing firm by his previous comments, Mr Mitchell yesterday said that the criticism generated “does not represent the Haitian community at all,” but is the result of “a group of activists whose stock in trade is creating alarm because they oppose the policy.”
“The fact is this policy has broad support throughout the Bahamas, without regards to national identity,” he said. “Any other portrayal is a false portrait. It does not exist, except in the mind of those individuals.”
The new immigration measures stipulate, among other things, that every person living in the Bahamas is required by law to have a passport of the country of their nationality.
Persons born in the Bahamas to non-Bahamian parents will be granted a special residence permit that will allow them to work until the status of their citizenship application has been determined.
In September, Mr Mitchell announced that the government would impose new immigration restrictions on November 1 in a bid to clamp down on illegal migration, particularly from Haiti.
The new policy also states that the government aims to have employers who are applying for first-time work permit holders who are residents of Haiti to come to the Department of Immigration and pay the $100 processing fee, provide a labour certificate, cover letter, stamp tax of $30 and the employee information sheet in Nassau.
Mr Mitchell said that information will be forwarded to the Embassy of the Bahamas in Port-au-Prince, Haiti where the applicant will fill out the application form and provide the supporting documents. The applicant must be certified as personally seen by an embassy officer in Port au Prince, he said.
The government has also said it will stop issuing certificates of identity.