THE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration yesterday defended the government’s recently announced immigration restrictions for children, stressing that they were in accordance with the Immigration Act and a part of the Christie administration’s wider policies.
Last week, Foreign Affairs and Immigration Minister Fred Mitchell revealed the government’s plans to require all non-Bahamian students, even those born here to immigrant parents, to have a student permit for the fall semester or a passport with a residency stamp.
The announcement has come under scrutiny from political observers, local human rights activists and was highlighted as a “tough” policy in the Saturday edition of the New York Times. Some observers have said the requirement will make it harder for children of immigrants to access education.
However, in a statement released yesterday, the ministry pushed back at the criticism, but revealed that immigration and education officials will meet soon to facilitate the new requirement for children.
“A permit to reside in the Bahamas is currently held by thousands of children in this country who are non-Bahamians,” the ministry said in a statement.
“That is the law. The Immigration Act says without distinction that everyone who is in the Bahamas who is not a Bahamian should have something which shows they have a right to reside or a right to work in The Bahamas.
“This applies to children and adults without distinction. The minister’s statement at the Outlook Seminar reminds all who do not have such a permit that they should get one for their children.
“With regard to whether it is prohibitive or not, that is a matter for the (Ministry of) Education authorities. Nothing the minister said spoke to the remit of the education authorities. He spoke only what the law on immigration says. The law requires every non-Bahamian to have a permit. The law also requires every child under the age of 16 to be in school. The law says that where the Immigration Act conflicts with other acts, the Immigration Act prevails. However, in the past the Ministry of Education and the Immigration Department have worked hand in hand administratively to deal with particular cases. There should be no different expectation, but the generality of the law should be enforced.
“The Ministry of Education and the Department of Immigration and the respective ministers are meeting shortly on the administrative issues for the public school system and the Department of Immigration will facilitate the granting of permits to children of all lawful residents.”
On Sunday, former Minister of Immigration Brent Symonette told The Tribune that making it harder for children of immigrants to get an education could create a slippery slope that results in a myriad of long-term social problems for Bahamians.
“The FNM’s philosophy was to make sure all children had access to schools and medical facilities, to make sure no illegal was apprehended on the way to church, school and hospitals because we expect that persons in the country should be educated and healthy,” Mr Symonette said. “We were one of the few countries in the Caribbean that did it this way.”
“With this new policy, I’m nervous that you are going to drive people away from school. They won’t leave the Bahamas and you will have an uneducated, unhealthy section of the population that may lead to more anger and issues that could harbour crime.”
Human rights activists Fred Smith and Joseph Darville have condemned the new restrictions for children.
“I am appalled at the new and most shameful depth to which Minister Mitchell has sunk with the announcement that he will target the most innocent and vulnerable among us,” Mr Darville said recently.
Mr Smith, the most vocal critic of the government’s immigration policy, said Mr Mitchell’s newly announced requirement is a “vile and cowardly tactic of seeking to deny children of the right to an education.”
On November 1, 2014 the government introduced a wider immigration policy that, among other things, required every non-Bahamian living in the country to have a passport of their nationality with proof of their status to live and work in the Bahamas.
It is said that the new policy unfairly targets Haitians.