By RICARDO WELLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
GRAND BAHAMA Human Rights Association Vice President, Joseph Darville, has accused Immigration Minister Fred Mitchell of using “new rules created out of thin air “ to target children born in The Bahamas.
The veteran educator and human rights advocate said he could not allow Mr Mitchell’s “misleading attempts” to explain the new controversial government immigration policy to go unchallenged.
“During a vitriolic address to young Bahamian students at the University of the West Indies in Barbados, (Mr) Mitchell has sought to explain away the move to block undocumented children from the classroom by comparing it to the student visa system in the United States,” Mr Darville said in a statement.
“While I loathe even the idea of responding to his ill-conceived diatribe, which was clearly designed to defend actions that are indefensible, it behooves me in the interests of truth and justice to correct a few of the more blaring inaccuracies.”
Mr Darville suggested that the comparison used by the Fox Hill MP lacked true connection to the immigration issue in The Bahamas. He claimed that in the US student visas are issued to persons outside the country who wish to attend an American learning institution.
He said: “Prior to leaving their home country, they are required to apply for documentation, issued by the US government, which will allow them to enter and leave the country freely and enrol for classes over the duration of their term of study.
“In contrast, the new rules created out of thin air by Mitchell and his colleagues, which have no basis in Bahamian law and in fact clearly violate The Bahamas Constitution and the Education Act, are not aimed at foreign students coming into the country. Rather, they are aimed at children, many of them primary school age, who were born in The Bahamas and have never called another place home.
“The fact is, despite what the minister says, the policies of the United States on this matter could not be more diametrically opposed to the witch-hunt the current government is seeking to launch in our public schools. In the US, thankfully, the sacred right to education is recognised as universal,” said Mr Darville.
“While speaking in Barbados, Mitchell went on to make several references made to myself and other human rights advocates that need to be corrected for the record.
“Despite what the minister says, when I asked Haitian pastors to encourage their Haitian brothers and sisters to voluntarily repatriate themselves rather than risk being rounded up and thrown into the Detention Centre, it was solely in relation to those who had absolutely no legal or potential status in this country. What Mitchell is seeking to do to innocent children who were born in the country is another matter entirely.
“Despite what he says, I never have and never will attack Minister Mitchell personally. I have berated the reprehensible actions undertaken by his department, and will continue to do so until he sees the light or recalls the principles of compassion, love and regard for God’s people, especially His precious children, taught to the minister at St Augustine’s College when he himself was a young and impressionable student.
“Mitchell loves to let it be known that he is an alumnus of that glorious institution, a distinction which I can also proudly boast. So let us not betray its Christ-like precepts. Thus in that spirit I profess my love for Fred Mitchell, but abhor the pain he is causing so many of God’s people.
Last week, GBHRA president, Fred Smith said Mr Mitchell does not have the “power” under the Immigration and Education Acts to impose new immigration restrictions. He added that Mr Mitchell had “failed to identify any section of the Immigration or Education Act which makes the ‘new visa rules’ under the ‘new immigration education policy’ lawful”.
Education Director Lionel Sands has formally indicated that no child will be denied access to an education in the fall semester, despite a new immigration policy requiring non-Bahamians to have a student permit and a passport with a residency stamp. Mr Sands said the Department of Education is willing to “work with” persons on a “case-by-case” basis to make sure that every child is allowed to attend school in September.
Mr Mitchell has said the restrictions “were in accordance with the Immigration Act and a part of the Christie administration’s wider policies”. The new restrictions will apply for the fall school semester, according to Mr Mitchell. The school permit rule would help the government keep track of who works and lives in The Bahamas and who attends schools here, Mr Mitchell has said.
According to immigration officials the annual school permit will cost $25 with a $100 processing fee. The changes are part of a wider immigration policy that came into effect on November 1. That policy mandates that every person living in The Bahamas has a passport of their nationality with proof to legally live in this country, among other restrictions.
• See Elcott Coleby’s letter on page 4.