By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
MINISTER of Immigration Brent Symonette yesterday condemned an erroneous social media report that alleged all residents are mandated to carry legal identification documents due to an influx of illegal migrants.
Mr Symonette said it was unfortunate irresponsible people were attempting to spread panic and confusion under the cloak of anonymity.
He maintained there were no new rules nor policy and the Department of Immigration continued to rely on existing legislation and the rule of law.
The fake advisory claimed Bahamians must produce their e-passport upon request as the frequency of “random roadblocks, home searches and door-to-door inspections of legal Bahamian documents” increase.
It also falsely claimed people would be remanded to the Detention Centre, if documents are not produced, for further processing.
The false report was circulated on Tuesday and quickly gained traction as officials in New Providence and ramped up the search for illegal migrants following the discovery of an empty sloop on Adelaide Beach on the weekend.
The sloop’s illegal landing, and probable cargo of illegal migrants, have come under heavy public scrutiny due to its proximity to the Royal Bahamas Defence Force Coral Harbour Base.
Mr Symonette said: “The message is totally false; no new rules have been issued. The Immigration Department continues to rely on the [Immigration] Act, and we are committed to the rule of law.”
While the memo circulated was false, it has sparked discourse over the criteria used by officials to distinguish between irregular migrants and those who are legal residents or citizens.
Yesterday, Immigration Director William Pratt pointed to the Immigration Act as he explained the powers bestowed upon immigration officers. He explained officers also received intensive training on interrogation tactics
Mr Pratt said: “Once you approach someone who is not legal in the country, one, they gonna break off running most of the time, and two, they gonna be so fearful you’ll see it all over them.
“We have power of interrogation,” he continued, “because there are persons who have citizenship who still have slang in their speech. Immigration officers have the power to interrogate and hold someone until they can provide proof but we don’t go about just apprehending Bahamians.
“If we interrogate someone, and after we speak to them if the officer suspects the person may be not be legal, the officer has to have a real suspicion. If they suspect, then the onus is now on the person to prove their identity, and their status. The [Immigration] Act gives officers that power to hold a person until they identify themselves.”
Search operations undertaken by the Department of Immigration routinely draw the ire of local activists and international human rights agencies, who condemn a process that notably targets migrants by use of ethnic profiling.
In 2013, the implementation of a national ID card was floated by then-National Security Minister Dr Bernard Nottage. Dr Nottage, now deceased, surmised the time had come for the country to consider the introduction of such a card, considering the Bahamas’ long-standing illegal migration problem.
The following year, then-Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration Fred Mitchell confirmed a proposal for an integrated identity card was being reviewed by the Cabinet. It was suggested the card could unravel the complex and contentious issue of regularisation for people born in the Bahamas to migrants.
The technology for a national ID card is in place, he said at the time, but noted national ID cards invoked the issue of civil liberties.
Mr Mitchell said the proposed card should not be mandatory but implemented as soon as possible given the public demand for heightened security and enforcement.