Disenfranchised: Immigration And Citizenship

By Jeffrey Butler

IT IS my belief that every country should protect its borders and strengthen its immigration laws.

In The Bahamas, there was a referendum in 2016 to amend and add to a few of our migration and immigration policies, especially where it concerned children.

My main concern was that it was not going to be retroactive law. I see it as an insult to and victimisation of a large section of young males and females who were born here, raised here, went from pre-school to completing high school and still cannot legally identify themselves as a citizen of the only country they know and love.

This very situation would make - and has made - a number of now grown adults feel stateless and disenfranchised. This is all too common across our Bahamas: adults who were born here possessing a birth certificate from the Princess Margaret Hospital but who cannot obtain a bank account and, in some cases, a driver’s licence.

I asked a childhood friend of mine what it has been like for him to be a part of this country, but yet not be able to contribute to society. In 1987, aged three, his parents not having Bahamian citizenship or permits at that time, volunteered to return to Haiti when the immigration department sent out a voluntary repatriation call. This move took both him and his younger brother to a country they knew nothing about to now be called home. Luckily, six months later his parents obtained a work permit and were able to return their children to their birthplace.

Now 33, he is a father of one and he is unable to get a bank account, a steady and decent paying job or any type of loan because of his lack of Bahamian citizenship.

It has been an eight-year process which he describes as very hurtful and discouraging ever since he reapplied for his citizenship. Noting that he had applied some years before but after the Immigration Act was changed in late 2014 to 2015 his documents and files have been lost countless times and now he is being sent back for a different piece of document one after the other as if something is being requested each time he goes to the immigration department.

Imagine for a moment growing up your entire childhood being picked on and teased for being born in The Bahamas to parents of a different nationality other than Bahamian and being told some of the most hurtful and degrading things by your peers and in some cases adults, and as you get older you are determined to rise above it all only to be met with road block after road block by the government.

Many of different descent here have given up trying to obtain naturalisation status because they feel it is either too long a battle, especially when one hears of others paying thousands of dollars to get their citizenship in just a few months.

These stateless men and women feel left out, neglected by the country they were born to and not even being recognised by the country of their parents. I hear the stories of potential lawyers, doctors, teachers, police officers, successful entrepreneurs and even those who would just like to be a humble maid in our tourism industry. These young men and women (many from our inner city) all play a part in the future growth of our beloved Bahamaland, they have a role to play and a potential role to lead in the making of a greater nation but first they need to feel as if they are a part of their country and not be asked to apply for a belongers permit of another country they know nothing of.

All laws should be enforced but none should be created to separate our nation’s youth from the society and country they know as home.

• Jeffrey Butler, 33, grew up in the Kemp Road area, where he now runs a daiquiri stand. He will be writing regularly in The Tribune about life in the inner city.


DDK 1 year, 1 month ago

Good points, Mr. Butler. The immigration situation in the Bahamas needs, finally and fully, to be addressed head on. It has been ignored by successive governments for decades.


Economist 1 year, 1 month ago

A very good article. The very persons who Mr. Butler speaks of deserve to be Bahamian Citizens, they have earned that right.

After all, they are already living here and, in most cases have been from birth.

Lastly, we cannot send them to a foreign country as it goes against the International Treaties that The Bahamas signed many, many years ago.


Cas0072 1 year, 1 month ago

Should this referendum be passed in future, I disagree that it should be retroactive beyond 2016 unless we can account for how many new citizens this will encompass and not without assurances of improved technology in clearing the queue. Otherwise, the waiting list could still go on and on without timely resolutions.

The current immigration laws are fine as is, and should only be tweaked to incorporate better technology to accommodate faster turnaround times and to offer permanent residency rather than citizenship to the children of illegal immigrants. If the parents are here lawfully, the children can claim both until age 18, after which time they can make the choice. If the parents are illegal residents, their children should be deported right along with them and offered permanent residency, but not citizenship until they meet the criteria that is expected of all other permanent residents turned citizens.


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