By KHRISNA VIRGIL
Tribune Staff Reporter
ARCHBISHOP Patrick Pinder has urged Bahamians to consider the positive socio-economic impact of migration as the government continues to battle immigration challenges.
He said too often, the debate is focused on the perceived negative effect illegal migrants had on employment and social services along with cultural differences.
Speaking during the Red Mass at St Francis Xavier Cathedral, Archbishop Pinder said it was important for Bahamians to treat illegal migrants as they would wish to be treated were they in the same position.
“Changing the narrative requires that Bahamians learn more of our history, about migrants who came here and made a positive contribution to the development of our land,” the Catholic archbishop said. “About how Bahamians too in the past had to go abroad seeking economic opportunities.”
“Changing the narrative means bringing to justice those who exploit migrants, taking advantage of their vulnerable state. In fleeing their homeland, migrants do not lose their humanity. They continue to need nourishment both material and spiritual. Their need for justice and protection tends to increase rather than diminish in a new land.
“Clearly it must be acknowledged that no country can support increasing influxes of dependent migrants. We certainly cannot. Ours is not a new problem or a simple one. It is a problem in aggregate.”
He said if the government manages the Bahamas’ migration issues properly, the country stands to benefit from relationships that are beneficial.
Many migrants, he told those gathered at the church, have skills and abilities that can boost the country’s development.
“They can and do fill gaps in the workforce that are created because Bahamians turn their backs on certain jobs. The process cannot be engaged haphazardly, however. The work must be approached and carried out with strict adherence to best and most productive international standards.
“It must protect the human right and dignity of all migrants. It must be defined by and infused with all the love of neighbour, which the Christianity we claim requires of us.”
Recently, the Bahamas has been the subject of fierce criticism over its position on illegal immigration.
Last September, Foreign Affairs and Immigration Minister Fred Mitchell announced new immigration restrictions in a bid to clamp down on illegal migration, particularly from Haiti. The restrictions took effect on November 1. On that day, immigration officials carried out operations in different pockets of New Providence in which scores of immigrants, mainly Haitians, were taken into custody.
The new immigration measures stipulate, among other things, that every person living in the Bahamas is required by law to have a passport of the country of their nationality.
Persons born in the Bahamas to non-Bahamian parents will be granted a special residence permit that will allow them to work until the status of their citizenship application has been determined.
The new policy also states employers who are applying for first-time work permit holders who are residents of Haiti must come to the Department of Immigration and pay the $100 processing fee, provide a labour certificate, cover letter, stamp tax of $30 and the employee information sheet in Nassau. The Haitian applicants must provide their supporting documents at the embassy in Haiti.
These new stipulations were seen as discriminatory against Haitian nationals.
It led human rights group Amnesty International; Florida lawmaker Daphne Campbell; Haitian Bahamian activist Jetta Baptiste; lawyer Fred Smith, president of the Grand Bahama Human Rights Association; and Organisation of American States (OAS) Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza to publicly express concern about the new policy.
The archbishop spoke at the annual service, which was held on Sunday, January 11.