By Frederick R. Smith, QC
AT first glance, the Christmas “Minnis Manifesto” appears to be directed at persons who are illegally in the country. The Prime Minister commands them to voluntarily leave or regularize themselves by getting their papers straight or face aggressive arrest and deportation in the New Year. But, effectively, who is the threat directed at?
Persons who have landed illegally, have overstayed or are working without a permit.
Logically and practically, it cannot be directed at people who are illegally in the country.
Why? For the most part, those who are here illegally can’t legally leave.
They don’t have visas or passports to legally travel to the USA or elsewhere by plane or boat.
In addition Minister of Immigration Symonette on Friday emphasized that first time applicants for work permits have to be out of the country when they apply.
Thus, those who are here illegally and have no papers
Can’t apply to the Department of Immigration (DOI) to regularize themselves; and,
Can’t voluntarily leave.
Minister Symonette has clarified there is no amnesty until December 31 and raids and deportations would continue apace.
So, the Minnis Manifesto effectively commands illegal migrants to get out illegally by finding their way into the USA thus encouraging human traffickers to secretly and illegally smuggle them out.
Otherwise, how pray tell are they going to voluntarily get out?
Those who are here illegally and who want to apply either for residency, for permission to land or for a work permit cannot do so because the DOI perversely (there is no law to such effect) won’t process an application unless such a person is outside of the country.
So, to summarize, those who are here illegally
Don’t have an amnesty; and,
Can’t apply for any papers to regularize themselves; and,
Can’t legally leave the Bahamas; and,
Can’t legally enter into another country.
Must try to flee the Bahamas illegally.
So, insofar as those who are here illegally, the Minnis Manifesto makes no sense!
They are stuck in a no man’s land of no ability to legally leave, no amnesty, no opportunity to regularize, subject to raids, subject to arrest, detention and deportation no matter what they do.
Thus, insofar as illegal migrants are concerned this Christmas Manifesto is causing panic and will cause them to get on overcrowded boats and flee the country at the mercy of human traffickers or face “aggressive” consequences.
Bravo Prime Minister and Minister Symonette in scaring people and not providing an amnesty as a practical mechanism to deal with the issue!
Those who are born in The Bahamas and or are waiting for applications to be considered by the DOI
Turning now to the other categories of persons that are called “illegal” because they are “undocumented”, or “don’t have their papers” or are waiting for their papers to be “processed” and or who have an entitlement to status but haven’t yet been “regularized”.
Persons falling into the above categories, are either
Born in the Bahamas before 1973 independence, or
Born in the Bahamas after 1973, or
Are married to Bahamian citizens, or
Arrived here legally and have applied for a renewal of their permits; or
Have been here for decades and have a moral right to consideration of their applications.
Let us remember there is no offence known to the law of the Bahamas as “not having immigration status”.
There is also no law, as there cannot be, of “not having a passport”.
So most of the above have not committed any offence under the law and are therefore not subject to being arrested, charged, detained and or deported.
Yet, for decades, they have been subjected to illegal raids, detentions and deportations because, as PLP Senator Fred Mitchell said on Friday “…we had put in place a policy, which says that everybody should have a passport of his or her nationality in this country. That has not changed. And if you are a first time work permit holder you have to go outside the country to apply”. This is of course illegal, but the DOI under the PLP and the FNM continue to enforce this.
Many have either applied for some kind of immigration status and are waiting for the DOI to process their applications or, have not applied for any immigration status. But not having a passport, or not applying for “immigration status” or not “regularizing” oneself, is not an offence under any law in The Bahamas.
I describe thousands of them as “Citizens in Waiting”, because under various Articles of the Constitution they are ENTITLED to be registered as citizens upon application.
They commit no offence by simply being in the Bahamas whether they have or have not applied for any kind of “papers”.
Being born in The Bahamas and not having a passport is not an offence under the law.
The law only provides for the offences of entering, overstaying, or working without a permit.
Unfortunately, because of Mitchell’s 2014 heresy, even though they are not committing an offence, persons falling in such categories 1-5 above are regularly illegally arrested in roundups and raids, their homes are regularly invaded, their belongings often lost to vandals, detained sometimes for years and/or are illegally deported.
However, in many instances, they are simply detained until such time as an application is made for them, or a family member brings in some kind of paper that is obtained, or they pay an immigration officer to release them, or they simply languish at the Carmichael Concentration Camp sometimes for years.
Article 15 of the Constitution provides that “every person”, not “Bahamian citizen” is entitled to the human rights in Chapter III of the Constitution. Article 19 protects from arbitrary arrest and detention; Article 20 provides for due process before the courts not the DOI; Article 20 protects privacy of one’s home and property; Article 25 protects freedom of movement and immunity from expulsion as a non-citizen except under due process of law not at the arbitrary whim of the DOI and Defence Force. Section 18 of the Criminal Procedure Code provides that once arrested persons must be taken before a court “…without unnecessary delay and not later than 48 hours”. Yet thousands are never taken before a court and dealt with according to law.
Most of them do not have papers to voluntarily travel out of the Bahamas before December 31, 2017. So they are also put in terror and faced with attempting to flee the Bahamas illegally rather than face illegal roundups and detentions.
These “Citizens in Waiting” have committed no offence. They are entitled to some kind of status. Thus, the DOI will entertain their applications because they are not in the Bahamas illegally. They are the only ones that can get their papers in order or regularized by December 31, 2017. So, the ultimatum can only logically be directed at those thousands who are entitled to status. Accordingly, the Minnis Xmas Manifesto is a threat to a large section of the domestic population.
This shows that the object of this threat is not really to ensure that people who are here illegally should leave, but it is directed at people who are born here and people who have entitlement to status but who apparently don’t yet have papers.
There is no requirement in law for people to travel around with passports. Secondly they have applied for papers and thousands are simply waiting. They can’t do anything to speed up the slow process.
The Xmas Minnis Manifesto Promotes Corruption
So this ultimatum is directed at illegally forcing people to get passports when there is no legal obligation on them to do so. It also targets unfortunate people who have applied for papers and are waiting.
They are at the mercy of a DOI whose interest is not to process applications, but forever keep them in abeyance, so that they can continue to roundup them up and corruptly collect money at the Carmichael Concentration Camp in a process that is outside of the scrutiny of the courts. The going rate is $2500 for release. Some people have been caught in the vicious cycle of corruption 3 or 4 times.
Ironically, this perpetuates corruption because it is not in the interest of the DOI to process the applications.
The Government has lamented the systemic corruption. It has also confessed that there are huge backlogs of applications. I urge the Government to make a virtue out of necessity and to
Stop terrorizing poor people with threats of illegal raids, detentions and deportations.
Declare an amnesty for those illegally here to apply to get papers to leave or be regularized and stay.
Process First! Pick Up After! Prosecute in the Courts!
Protect the borders; arrest and deport immediately all newcomers.
Engage Civil Society and Reform Immigration Laws.