By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
AS A war of words erupts between human rights activists and the government about the impact and intent of its new immigration ultimatum, it’s business as usual for residents in one of the country’s oldest and largest shanty town settlements.
The Tribune combed through the streets of the Mud and its sister settlement Pigeon Peas to find out from residents - most of Haitian descent - how Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis’ declaration has reverberated among those most affected.
Some noted an uptick in the undercurrent of fear and anxiety common to people without legal status in the country, but most expressed disgust and exasperation that the “oldest trick in the Bahamian political handbook” has been pulled so soon after a general election.
People without status, or those awaiting confirmation, were reluctant to share their views on the issue of immigration and the treatment of migrants.
However, Bahamians of Haitian descent and long-term work permit holders spoke strongly about concerns that far-reaching and complex immigration challenges were not being addressed in lieu of increased deportation.
Linda Thervill, a Bahamian resident of Pigeon Peas, said: “I know someone who did apply for a work permit and they still ain’t give it, they were born here and applied so they’d be able to work. They told him he has to apply for citizenship instead before he can get the permit but that don’t make no sense. You don’t want them work?
“It’s a cycle, the process of asking for stuff from Haiti, it takes forever and it’s very costly. So you don’t have any way to work, so how are they going to get the money to apply? They want to help themselves, they go through the process. You need money, he only applied for a work permit for year so he could save for the citizenship application.
“And what about the kids who were born here and whose parents were sent back home? They need to do a faster process to help them. Those kids gotta come back on the boat or something. If your parents went back with you when you were eight or nine and now you’re 20-plus you have to try and smuggle yourself back here, and they still don’t want to give them nothing.
“If you were born here and you have all the documents, (Immigration officials) they still gonna send you to Nassau when they pick you up in a raid. So the little bit of money you get to eat and take care of yourself, you have to go pay a ticket to come back (to Abaco).
Ms Thervill, 40, continued: “There’s one woman every time they come through they catch her. Why would you keep sending her to Nassau, three times, she born here, she have all her documents. Her name should be in the system, if you catch her three times obviously Nassau is letting her go.
“My process didn’t take too long, I was here and did it exactly at 18. A lot of them in the Peas are not straight, once you go past 18 it gets a lot harder. But it’s because of money, or their parents are in Haiti so they have to send for documents, try to find documents, something holding them back, they become 19. Or if your parents are dead in Haiti, sometimes the documents do come and they say it’s not good enough. All that is time. I know a lot of people right now in there 30s late 20s and they still don’t have a passport. You can’t work, a lot of kids born here they want to work but can’t. They can’t get a real job.”
For some, the repeated assurances that applicants who can prove they have started the regularization process will not be impacted by increased enforcement measures, have fallen on deaf ears.
While officials have stressed that the new deadline would affect migrants of all nationalities, shanty town residents yesterday highlighted the coded language made it clear Haitians were the target given historic prejudices as the largest migrant group in the country.
“November 1, 2014 we will not forget that day,” said Bahamian activist Manishka Desinord, “That was horrible. As long as they do it (this time) with respect, and at the end of the day it’s all about this country. It’s about the protection of this country, we all understand the job has to get done but do it as humanely as possible and according to the laws of the land.
“People think it’s a party thing, it is not a party thing, and people also think only Haitians are migrants. We have so many different nationalities here, the Mexicans, the Nigerians, the Jamaicans, the Filipinos. How are they going to get these people? They usually target the Haitians because they live in the shanty towns, they’re easy targets. How about the people working in the bank, the expats, how are you going to know they’re illegal? It’s mind boggling sometimes and it becomes racist. Once they target the Haitians the Bahamians are happy.”
Ms Desinord continued: “Crime is sky high and they’re not doing anything about it, they need to do something with crime first of all and then do something with this immigration issue.
“It has to be done as humanely as possible, do your job, do the round ups, do the pick ups, do the proper paperwork do the proper processing as humanely as possible,” she said.
For Ms Desinord, and many others, reducing the backlog at the Department of Immigration should preempt a ramped up schedule of mass deportations - which she noted were not supported by Bahamian law.
Bahamian Manishka Desinord, an activist of Haitian descent, said: “Respectfully in my opinion I think the department should get rid of all of their backlogs. Even if they would hire people on contracts, hire a certain about for three or six months, get rid of the people who been waiting for citizenship work permit permanent residency for 10 years, clean house. Get the department organized and then when you’re able to process these people, come strong. Dr Minnis gave them a deadline. He said who’s not regularized go up there and get yourself regularized. The department cannot handle this, because they have too much stuff in there already.
“People been waiting ten to 15 years - get rid of those papers first and then do what you have to do. It could be done but the department cannot handle it at the moment in my opinion. They are still doing paper work, hand work ruler work. We are in a different age, use the computer, put these things in the system. Get the people names in the system when we go to the window to check they don’t have to go swim all through in the back there.”
Bahamian Frankie Fleuridor, an activist and promoter, said: “The situation is that a lot of kids that are born here and have all their documents inside (Department of Immigration) but those people still haven’t received their status or passport. I feel like they should regularize everybody who have their documents in, work on the inside first before they come on the outside. To me when they do this it is just a show, to me every time a government change their agenda is be immigration its easy.
“They struggling. The Bahamian public was outraged that Dominicans was coming here for school and people here still struggling and don’t have no space in the classes. Kids who are born here and don’t have their status yet, they aren’t in school. A child born here can’t go to school, then you trying to bring other kids for them to go to school so I guess that’s what really causing him to say ok if you not regularized you got to go so he making it seem like he’s tough on immigration.”
Mr Fleuridor said: “People feel threat all over. It’s terrorizing. It’s not law to come in and kick door and break in the houses, they don’t do it like that in Abaco they normally come like three or four in the morning, but people are scared.”
“The Haitian made the Bahamas what it is today,” said Rose-Ann Jean, who latched on to Dr Minnis’ appeal for empathy from Bahamians towards storm displaced Dominicans. Dr Minnis, and several Cabinet minister, went to great lengths to admonish Bahamians critical of his charity.
Ms Jean, a life-long resident of the Mud, continued: “Haitians, all their strength, they help the country. The PM just reach four months ago and he feel like the Haitian is the problem, the Haitian is not the problem of the Bahamas. It makes me feel like what he see Trump doing, that’s what he’s doing too, he following Trump.”
“While he pushing Haitians,” she said, “he calling the people from Dominica to come to the Bahamas. He have something to give to them?
“Dr Minnis we ask you to remember when you been here election time, you promised us so much, is this what the promises is? Haitians need to leave before December 31st? And you call the Bahamas a Christian nation?
“He don’t show no heart, no pity,” Ms Jean said, “to say well they are there, there is no work, let them stay there, let me see those who been there long enough let me see if I can give them something. I can see if you just come four years or five years yeah you gotta go but what about those who been there 40 years, 50 years, 60 years? My mom been there 40 years and still with work permit, still paying work permit, what about these people? When they talking about the Mud and the Peas, do they have somewhere else for us, any low cost houses?”
Ms Jean questioned why there has not been a move to funnel Haitian labourers desperate for opportunity into farming projects given the country’s struggle with food security.
“I thought Dr Minnis could have done it in a better fashion way call those who have been here 10 years and say ok I will give you some type of work permit for one year, I will require $1,000. You will see how much Haitian come in to take it, how much money the country will make. When you calling about deportation every week deportation that’s bringing the country down that’s money wasting. When you send 100 Haitian Monday, Friday 200 Haitian come because that’s Haitian road, the Bahamas has become Haitian road.
“Adapt, do something that can work, to bring a solution. Abaco don’t have no company what makes food or grow food. everything gotta be exported from the States. All this labour all these people who been here for all these years, make farm do something that is not the solution all these islands. since the Bahamas star closed nothing major happening on the farm. Dr Minnis I thought you were going to do better than that, but I’m very disappointed in you, very.”