By KHRISNA VIRGIL
Tribune Staff Reporter
FOREIGN Affairs Minister Fred Mitchell said discussions with two major international organisations that were planned for today to clarify the government’s controversial new immigration restrictions in Washington, DC, have been postponed until next week.
Mr Mitchell told The Tribune yesterday that executives of the Organisation of American States (OAS) were expected to leave the United States on official business ahead of talks with The Bahamas.
He said another meeting was tentatively scheduled for next week.
This comes as Philip Miller, acting permanent secretary in the Department of Immigration, sent the Jamaica Observer a letter to the editor yesterday refuting assertions outlined in an article published in the daily last week about the government’s new immigration policy.
In the article, OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza reportedly expressed concern about the “rounding up” of illegal immigrants in the country. Scores of suspected illegal immigrants, and some children, were apprehended the day the policy took effect, November 1, throughout New Providence sparking a wave of criticism.
The apprehensions drew fierce opposition from Haitian-born Florida politician Daphne Campbell who called for tourists and businesses to boycott this country. She claimed children were mistreated during the apprehensions, something immigration officials have denied.
Grand Bahama Human Rights Association president Fred Smith also weighed in, calling the immigration restrictions “unconstitutional and a flagrant violation of the fundamental concept that individuals are innocent until proven guilty.” Mr Miller said in the letter to the editor: “We are concerned that the Jamaica Observer seems to have accepted uncritically as statements of fact, what we believe we can objectively show are inaccurate and inflammatory statements by the Grand Bahama Human Rights Association.
“The fact is there are no immigration ‘round ups’ in the dead of night occurring in the Bahamas. The policy is not indiscriminate and lawful residents of the Bahamas are not adversely affected as the story claims.
“In pursuance of their mandate in law, immigration officers conduct routine checks and interdiction exercises. They have the authority to arrest people where there is a reasonable suspicion of an offence having been committed, in the process of being committed or about to be committed. That is the same standard in Jamaica’s constitution.
“Immigration enforcement is humane; the policies are generic in their application and no specific national group is being targeted. The Bahamas government does not sanction the abuse of detainees and there have not been any reported cases of abuse in connection with the enforcement of this policy. All of the political parties, opposition parties included have supported that assertion.”
He pointed to the Constitution of the Bahamas and the fact that it does not automatically pass on citizenship to persons born in the Bahamas to non-Bahamian parents.
While many may disagree, Mr Miller said it has been a fact of life since the Bahamas gained independence in 1973.