By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
A WOMAN born in The Bahamas of Haitian parents has filed an application in the Supreme Court for judicial review of the government’s immigration policy and its impact on her access to public services.
The ex-parte application by 21-year-old Widlyne Melidor alleges that the young mother was denied antenatal care while pregnant with her fourth child and access to primary school education for her five-year-old son Petroun Benz Chery.
The five-year-old was also born in The Bahamas and is listed as the second applicant in the application filed on April 24.
The two were allegedly denied services because they did not have Haitian passports, according to the application, which suggests that their experiences appear to be the result of the implementation, or subsequent interpretation, of the immigration policy introduced on November 1, 2014.
Ms Melidor is also seeking judicial review of the Immigration Department’s policy requirement for persons born in The Bahamas to carry identity papers proving their right to reside in the country; and the decision to refuse consideration of her citizenship application until she is able to produce a Haitian passport, special residency or Belonger’s permit.
She is represented by Fred Smith, QC, of Callenders & Co.
Respondents listed are: Minister of Immigration Fred Mitchell, Minister of Education Jerome Fitzgerald, the Columbus Primary School Board, Minister of Health Dr Perry Gomez and the administrator of the Fleming Street Community Clinic.
At the time of the application, Ms Melidor was 39 weeks pregnant with her fourth child and was supported by her mother and the father of her children. It was unclear up to press time whether she has given birth.
Ms Melidor was born at the Princess Margaret Hospital to Haitian parents, according to her affidavit.
She lives at Rupert Dean Lane with her mother and two of her children, her youngest daughter Whitney, aged 3, and Petroun. Her eldest daughter is eight years old and lives with her aunt.
Her father, Rigobert Melidor, now deceased, was a permanent resident and her mother, Ghislaine Jean, was said to have had a work permit.
Ms Melidor attended St Barnabas Pre-School, Naomi Blatch Primary School, PACE (Providing Access to Continued Education), S C McPherson Junior High School, and C V Bethel Senior High School.
Ms Melidor’s son Petroun was born at the Princess Margaret Hospital in 2009. His father Benji Chery is Haitian. On March 19, 2015, Petroun’s parents applied for him to be registered for grade one at Columbus Primary School. He is currently in pre-school at East Street Gospel Chapel.
Ms Melidor said she was told by the school’s administrator that her son had been refused registration because he did not have a Haitian passport, and was also advised that he needed a new National Insurance Board certificate.
Ms Melidor said she received antenatal care for the full duration of her third pregnancy at the Fleming Street Clinic. However, as previously reported by The Tribune, she was allegedly denied antenatal care on two separate occasions at the Fleming Street Clinic because she did not have a Haitian passport while pregnant with her fourth child.
It is further claimed that she did not receive care until she was personally assisted by the clinic’s head nurse on her third attempt when eight months pregnant.
According to her affidavit, Ms Melidor applied for Bahamian citizenship when she was 18 years old with the assistance of the Eugene Dupuch Law School Legal Aid Clinic on June 6, 2012 – three days before her 19th birthday.
However, the application was returned because it was missing documentation concerning her father. She resubmitted her application on March 14, 2013, and a month later was asked to provide additional information on her children. At the time, Ms Melidor did not know of her father or his status in The Bahamas.
She was called in for an interview at the Immigration Department in April 2014. During the interview, she was asked questions about the Bahamas, her personal life and asked to sing the national anthem and recite the national pledge.
The affidavit read: “They also asked me why I wanted to be a Bahamian citizen. I told them I was born here, I have lived here all my life, went to school, had all my children and I have never left the country.”
The young mother recounts that she was then graded on an oral and written test about The Bahamas, and was told that she scored 73 per cent.
“I explained that at the time I submitted the documents I was unaware of my (father’s) status as I didn’t know my father. I also did not know this was relevant to my application and understand and verily believe that it is not.”
Ms Melidor alleged that she was advised by the interviewer to get her father’s death certificate, and that the department would continue to work on her application once it was submitted.
She submitted her father’s death certificate in January 2015 along with a translation and was told that she would be contacted in a week.
After she did not get a call back, Ms Melidor says she called the department and was told that she would have to apply for a Haitian passport and a Belonger’s permit before her application could be further considered.
Since then, Ms Melidor explained that she has not applied for a Haitian passport because she feared it would prejudice her chance of obtaining a Bahamian passport.
“I am advised and understand that if, when my registration application is being considered, I am already a citizen of Haiti by virtue of having a Haitian passport then, under Article 7 of the Constitution, I cannot be registered in The Bahamas until I renounce Haitian citizenship,” the affidavit read.
“I do not understand how having a Haitian passport could therefore be a prerequisite for a citizenship application when the opposite seems to be the case under the Constitution of The Bahamas.”
She said that there was no new law that required her to obtain the passport or Belonger’s permit, adding that she could not afford to apply for a Haitian passport.
Pending the determination of the judicial review, Ms Melidor has asked for an interlocutory injunction or an order that would require health officials to provide access to medical care for herself and her dependents.
Ms Melidor is seeking relief in the form of a declaration that the decisions were ultra vires, or without legal authority; a declaration that the minister of immigration is in breach of his duty to determine her citizenship in a timely manner; and orders of certiorari to quash each of the decisions.
She has also requested orders of mandamus: to require the minister of immigration to consider her citizenship application according to law and with reasonable time; to require the minister of education and the Columbus Primary School Board to register her son Petroun; and to require the minister of health and the administrator of the Fleming Street Community Clinic to provide access to medical care for herself and her dependents.
Last November, the government introduced a stricter immigration policy that, among other things, requires every non-Bahamian to have a passport of their nationality. Months later, the government said every child of foreign parents would need a student permit to attend school for the upcoming fall semester.
In February, Education Director Lionel Sands said that no child would be denied access to an education in the fall semester, despite the new requirement.