By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
THE Grand Bahama Human Rights Association yesterday pledged to challenge the constitutionality of the government’s new immigration legislation to establish the Belonger’s permit.
GBHRA president Fred Smith said that the permit intentionally created “insurmountable hurdles” for people of Haitian descent that are eligible for Bahamian citizenship.
“I think it is disgraceful that the government has created this Belonger’s permit,” he said, “because it is indirectly denying people who are entitled to citizenship after they have already applied.
“The mantra now is everybody who was born here to foreign parents, whether legally or illegally, should apply for a Belonger’s permit. For those whose parents didn’t have status by the regulation it’s now impossible for them to apply because they can’t produce evidence of their parents’ legal status. That’s a whole category of people that the government have wiped out of their entitlement in one fell swoop, by that single requirement. It’s downright dishonest.”
Mr Smith also pointed to the chaos that followed the implementation of the “premature” implementation of the November 1 policy, which required persons to have documentation that did not yet exist in law.
He claimed that, as a result, persons who applied for a Haitian passport in compliance with the new policy were unable to return to The Bahamas once they travelled out of the country because they did not have a visa.
Foreign Affairs Minister Fred Mitchell maintained that Haitian passport holders require visas to enter The Bahamas, adding that all non-nationals have to have evidence of permission to reside or work in The Bahamas. He declined to comment further on whether persons who got Haitian passports, as a result of a new policy, should delay travel until they also acquire a Belonger’s permit. “I cannot give any advice beyond that,” he said. “A Belonger’s permit gives the right to live and work in The Bahamas.”
Mr Mitchell also declined to comment when asked to clarify whether the legality of an applicant’s parents, at the time of their birth, will have an impact on a person’s eligibility for the permit. “The law on the grant of a Belonger’s permit states exactly the circumstances under which it can be given,” he said. “I will not comment beyond what the law says.”
Mr Mitchell added: “It is imperative that everyone who is not a national of this country have a permit to reside or work here and the passport of their national country.”
According to the law, the eligibility of persons born to non-Bahamians is tied to whether they are entitled to apply for registration as a citizen under Article 7 of the Constitution and are residing permanently in the country at the time.
Article 7 states that any application for citizenship registration under this Article shall be subject to such exceptions or qualifications as may be prescribed in the interests of national security or public policy.
In September, when the November 1 policy was first announced, Mr Mitchell explained that persons born in The Bahamas will get a “particular residence permit” that would allow them to live and work in the country until the status of their citizenship application was decided.
“This will also allow access of children to school,” he said. “This will not apply to the children of those who are here illegally.”
Yesterday, Mr Smith urged the government to refocus resources to process the applications of persons that have been waiting more than a decade for citizenship.
“The people who have applied under the Nationality Act and different provisions are entitled to have their applications considered without having a Belonger’s permit,” he said. “So in every way this permit is a recipe for denying people their citizenship rights. What’s going to happen is there are going to be raids, roadblocks, home invasions and roundups of people who don’t have a Belonger’s permit, which will continue to wreak havoc on our society as the unintended and unforeseen consequences are manifested.”