By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
AT least two children, ages five and two, were apprehended by immigration officers searching for migrants believed to have disembarked from a sloop that landed on Adelaide Beach over the weekend, human rights group Rights Bahamas said in a press statement.
The group said the toddlers, whose names they have withheld, were taken with their mother.
"Both children were born in the Bahamas and as such, have a constitutional right to be registered upon application after their 19th birthday," the group said. "They are not citizens of Haiti and arbitrarily deporting them to that country will effectively deny them of their rights and, under certain circumstances, could place them at risk of statelessness."
Immigration Director William Pratt, however, said taking children along with their parents and guardians is customary.
He said: "If a mother is illegal and the mother is taken into custody, would it be right to leave the children alone? It has nothing to do with their constitutional entitlement. If we want to arrest a mother and leave the children because they're born here and, God forbid, something happens to the children, who is going to get blamed? Immigration will. It has nothing to do with their constitutional entitlement. If you arrest an illegal migrant and she has minor children with her, the children will be taken with her. If the mother is repatriated and let’s say the mother and father aren't married and the father is here legally and the mother wants to go through the court and grab the father legal custody of the children; once the father does this, he can apply for them to be given a Belonger's permit. If the mother is arrested because she is illegal, automatically she brings her children along."
Rights Bahamas said immigration officers have been accused of physically abusive behaviour.
"Following the Cowpen Road raid, we understand that armed officers in military fatigues then descended upon a nearby church frequented by members of the Haitian-Bahamian community," the group said. "There have been multiple claims of physical abuse by immigration officers during the raids and we urgently call upon Immigration Director William Pratt to restrain his officers in order to prevent any further violence against defenseless individuals, particularly women and children."
"Rights Bahamas demands that all those detained be immediately screened to ensure that there are no other minors among them who have a Constitutional right to be in the Bahamas, and also no adults who may have applied for citizenship but constitute part of the backlog of thousands of status cases which the Immigration Department continues to ignore, even as it seeks to expel people from the country in violation of their rights."
"The group must also urgently be screened for individuals who may qualify for refugee status. So far, however, the stated aim of the authorities continues to be the detention and arbitrary deportation of these individuals without due process."
"Rights Bahamas reiterates in the strongest of terms that each and every one of these detentions is unlawful as officers did not follow due process. The detainees have not been granted the right to see an attorney, have not gone before the courts within the prescribed 48 hours and have not been allowed to apply for bail. Indeed, they now join the hundreds others held at the Carmichael Road Detention Centre indefinitely, some of them for years."