By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
RIGHTS Bahamas yesterday urged the government to cease and desist its heightened immigration crackdown, pointing to an incident where a mother and child reportedly fell off the back of a truck and were hurt as they tried to evade authorities.
Images of a young child with facial injuries in the arms of a woman purported to be her mother were circulated on social media Tuesday night, but have not been confirmed by relatives or law enforcement.
The photo was purported to have been taken in Andros, according to Rights Bahamas (RB), which claimed eye witnesses saw when an Immigration Department vehicle carrying armed officers in military fatigues began chasing a civilian pickup truck carrying several individuals in the rear bed.
The human rights advocacy group reported the mother and child sustained injuries when they fell from the truck bed as the frightened driver sought to escape an “aggressive immigration apprehension exercise.”
RB alleges that the pair were treated at a clinic and detained.
However, Immigration Director William Pratt, as well as the department’s Family Island head, yesterday said they had not received any report of such an incident.
A press statement from RB read: “These images highlight just one of several violent incidents and human rights abuses that have been reported to activists as a result of the state’s illegal immigration crackdown and unconstitutional deadline of December 31 for all undocumented migrants to leave the country.
“This behaviour on the part of the immigration officers was totally illegal,” the rights group claimed, as immigration “sought to curtail the constitutional right to freedom of movement of the occupants of the vehicle, without a legal warrant and without any probable cause.
“Frightened by the aggressive and illegal action of the officers, the driver sought to escape, resulting in a mother and her young child falling from the truck and sustaining injuries, the severities of which remain unknown. They were taken to a local clinic where, according to witnesses, they were detained by the Immigration officers.”
RB claimed: “The child, having been born in the Bahamas, has a constitutional right to be registered as a citizen upon her 18th birthday. Her detention and eventual deportation therefore represents a gross violation of her constitutional rights.”
The group recalled the shooting of suspected undocumented migrant Jean Marie Justilien, who was shot during an immigration round up in Palmetto Point, Eleuthera, on June 9, 2015. A medical report revealed the bullet entered at the back of Justilien’s neck and exited his left cheek.
Justilien filed a writ against the government seeking $500,000 in damages for the shooting and breaches to his constitutional rights. He was represented by RB president, attorney Frederick Smith, QC, and Adrian Gibson, now Long Island MP.
RB wrote: “[Justilien] likewise fled in fear when armed and aggressive immigration officers chased him. He was later summarily deported without due process, in time for the state to avoid facing a hearing on the shooting.
“Over the last three years, the Bahamas Immigration Department has become increasingly violent and intimidating in their enforcement exercises, employing nighttime raids and roadblocks which the Supreme Court of the Bahamas has declared unconstitutional,” RB claimed.
The press statement continued: “Rights Bahamas once again urges the state, in the strongest possible terms, to cease and desist from this reckless and dangerous course before any further human rights violations take place.
“We also call upon the state to release all minors who have a right to be registered as citizens of the Bahamas, along with their legal guardians, until a human and legal solution to their situation can be found.”