By Rashad Rolle
WITH debate over illegal immigration raging in the country, Free National Movement (FNM) Chairman Carl Culmer drew criticism yesterday for saying in a press statement the properties of illegal immigrants in Over-the-Hill communities are “dirty” and “shoddy” and their presence in the country has “added to the unsanitary conditions” in those communities.
His statement, which suggested Bahamians in Over-the-Hill communities keep their properties cleaner than illegal immigrants do, drew rebuke from activists yesterday.
The remarks came in a press release praising the Minnis administration’s agenda for Over-the-Hill communities.
Mr Culmer wrote: “In addition to the massive unemployment, the lack of indoor plumbing, the heavy criminality and less than acceptable housing infrastructure in these areas, one of the major difficulties (Over-the-Hill areas) have had to endure is the infiltration into these communities of a significant number of illegal immigrants. Moreover, the presence of the many illegals have added to the unsanitary conditions in these communities.”
“Bain Town has had a history which its residents are extremely proud of, having produced many political, educational, business and religious leaders that have played a vital role in the development of this country. Its residents have always gone to great lengths to keep their properties clean, have looked out for each other, and maintained cohesiveness within their neighbourhoods. These characteristics are practically non-existent today. The properties where the illegals reside are dirty, the houses shoddy and the streets littered.”
Stephanie Saint Fleur, an activist born of Haitian migrants, said Mr Culmer’s comments are divisive and counterproductive. The FNM chairman did not specifically reference Haitian migrants in his press release.
“Haitians are a clean people,” she said. “I would remind him that at one point our parents cleaned their yards, kept their homes, took care of their children and to date we still have a lot of Haitian people doing this. Not only are Haitian people clean, a lot of Bahamians who have homes depend on us to keep their homes clean and they respect the fact that we are a clean people. In these so called areas where he says Haitians are keeping the areas unsanitised, has he ever done any work to go into the communities to see that there are Haitians and Bahamians that are living in such communities?
“It also breaks my heart, this name blaming.” she said. “I expect for leaders to advocate for unity. That’s what makes a good leader. Why are our leaders singling out just the Haitians? Why are they doing this? Come on man. We are children of Haitians. I’m a Bahamian born of migrant parents and the Bahamas is my home. I would never put myself in a position to have anyone talk bad about Bahamians or Haitians. Our leaders need to stop this because they’re creating the divisions in our society. Haitians are a clean people. Haitians are hard working.”
Attorney and human rights activist Fred Smith, QC, said the governing party is contradicting itself over the issue of immigration.
“I regret that the various voices speaking on behalf of the FNM in regard to immigration are sometimes dissonant and contradictory,” Mr Smith told The Tribune. “I speak as a human being first, a Christian second and a lawyer third. In the Bahamas, we continue to treat immigrants and thousands of citizens-in-waiting worse than the most hardened suspects of murder, rape, armed robbery, kidnapping, drug-dealing and possession of guns. We have to start practicing in the Bahamas the Christianity that we preach.”
Mr Culmer’s remarks, viewed as offensive by some, come nearly two months after Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis visited the Haitian Metropolitan Church of the Nazarene and made a clear appeal to people in the Haitian community, including those in the country illegally but who are eligible for legal status of some kind.
Dr Minnis told congregants of the church: “We all share a common dignity and there is no room in our hearts and minds for prejudice or discrimination... We must be fair and just towards those who have contributed in so many ways to our Bahamas. This means that we must be fairer in terms of our immigration practices and policies.”
That church visit came not long after Dr Minnis announced a December 31 deadline for all illegal immigrants to leave the country or get legal status, or face an aggressive pursuit and deportation.
The issue of illegal immigration has long been a hot-button topic and it has been dominating headlines in recent weeks. Two sloops have landed illegally near the Royal Bahamas Defence Force’s base in less than a month. The first boat was discovered empty and despite increased immigration sweeps, officials said they did not find any migrant believed to be on that vessel. On Monday, nearly 60 Haitian migrants were apprehended after a vessel landed in the Clifton Pier area.