By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
FOREIGN Affairs and Immigration Minister Fred Mitchell yesterday refuted recent claims that the government’s new immigration policy would prove ineffective due to a lack of legislation and said “no legislation is required” to enforce the restrictions.
Mr Mitchell told The Tribune that immigration officials “would not be acting” if legislation was compulsory to execute the new policy.
However, the Fox Hill MP would not say when the proposed legislation for the overarching immigration policy would be tabled in the House of Assembly.
He did say that draft legislation for the belonger’s permit, which will give those born in The Bahamas who have a right to apply for citizenship under the Constitution some form of status while their application is pending, is completed but needs “some tweaking.”
He said it would be presented as soon as the government acquires “the space in the parliament on its agenda.”
Mr Mitchell’s statements come after Shadow Immigration Minister Hubert Chipman said last week that the immigration policy needed “firm and clear legislation” to work.
His comments also come after former Attorney General Alfred Sears said the new policy must be “harmonised” to be “consistent with human rights, with the rule of law, and with our international obligations”.
When questioned on Mr Chipman’s claims yesterday, however, Mr Mitchell said: “That’s not true at all.”
“First of all, no legislation is required. As I explained to the (House of Assembly) last week, there is no legislation required to do what we’re doing. I mean we wouldn’t be acting if we needed legislation. What we anticipated though was that we were creating this new category for people who were born here to non-national parents, so that they can have some immigration status between the ages of zero and 18.
“We can do that now but the price is $1,000. In order to change that we have to amend the regulations and that’s the only reason an amendment is required.”
Regarding legislation for the belonger’s permit, Mr Mitchell said: “We’re just trying to get it through. The drafting is done but there has to be some tweaking to it, and as soon as we get the space in the parliament on its agenda we’ll get it through. There’s some other amendments coming but mainly those have to do with penalties, increasing the penalties for people hiring workers and so forth.”
Last week Mr Chipman, the Free National Movement MP for St Anne’s, said the government’s new immigration policy will “prove ineffective” due to a lack of legislation. He accused the government of using “mixed messages to create mass confusion”. He added that immigration officials are playing guessing games with the new policy.
Also speaking on the issue last week, Mr Sears, also a former minister of education under the first Christie administration, told The Tribune that the government’s approach to the new immigration policy must be “harmonised” to be “consistent with human rights, with the rule of law, and with our international obligations”.
He said failure to do so could potentially result in “statelessness” and an “underclass of undereducated persons in the country,” which he said would be a “national security threat”.
“From a legal standpoint, The Bahamas is part of a global community, and as a member we have an obligation to conduct our internal affairs in accordance with the global norms for example to prevent statelessness,” Mr Sears said. “That’s a duty that all countries have and certainly that duty applies to us in The Bahamas as well.
“These are competing and interlocking issues that must be harmonised, and that is why we run for office and we sit in parliament and in the Cabinet, because those are the hard decisions that any government has to make. Consistent with human rights, with the rule of law, and with our international obligations.”
On November 1, the government introduced a new policy, which required everyone to have a passport of their nationality with proof to legally work or reside in The Bahamas. As a part of that policy, Mr Mitchell announced last month that all non-Bahamian children will have to obtain a student permit and a passport with a residency stamp.
Since the new policy was announced, however, numerous critics – local and international – have spoken out against the restrictions, with some saying the policy unfairly targets Haitians.
After having previously stressed that the restrictions were in accordance with the Immigration Act and a part of the Christie administration’s wider policies, Mr Mitchell said last week that he was confident the government enjoys the support of most Bahamians on the matter.