ATTORNEY General Carl Bethel.
By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
ATTORNEY General Carl Bethel revealed upcoming amendments to the country’s immigration laws which will strengthen the detention powers of the Department of Immigration and “make it clear” the minister of immigration has the right to order the deportation of “illegal aliens” without first obtaining a court order.
In addition, irregular migrants intercepted at sea will get “swift justice” if a new maritime law empowering immigration officers to execute mass deportations without a mandatory court order is passed.
Mr Bethel told the Senate yesterday the Law Reform Commission was working on a supplementary bill to the Immigration Act called The Unlawful Maritime Entry Bill.
The attorney general suggested the Court of Appeal’s ruling in the high-profile Takitota case appeared to be based on a “mistaken interpretation” of the minister’s deportation powers.
Mr Bethel said: “The Immigration Act itself will be amended to make it clear that the minister has a right to order the deportation of any illegal alien on the basis that their continued presence is undesirable without the need to first obtain a court order.
“Similarly,” he continued, “the power of the Immigration Department to detain an undocumented person pending a deportation order for up to two months without a court order, under Section 26 of the Act, will be strengthened by removing its present tie-in to Section 25, which speaks of a similar power in relation to persons who ‘land’ at an air or sea port, who may be detained for up to two months for the purpose of placing them back on the same aircraft or ship in which they arrived.”
The legality of such detentions will be supported by the proposed assignment of a magistrate at the Carmichael Road Detention Centre, an initiative proposed in tandem with new regulations for the facility.
Noting the Immigration Act was “entirely ill-suited” for mass immigration events, he explained the legislation was predicated on the conviction that the country has an absolute sovereign right to control and regulate its borders.
“This (new) bill will place a specific legal duty upon any immigration officer, meaning the department,” he said, “to apprehend and to remove from the Bahamas the occupants of any maritime vessel or boat of any kind who have entered Bahamian waters without having first landed and checked-in at a port of entry as required by law, and whose purpose is to smuggle illegal migrants into the Bahamas or any other country.
“No court proceedings of any kind will be required, except in cases where political refugee status can reasonably be claimed by any particular individual. Persons of foreign nationality who are found in the vicinity of an illegally landed sloop or vessel who cannot show any kind of documentary evidence of legal status or entitlement to be in the Bahamas will be liable to arrest and summary removal from the Bahamas.”
Mr Bethel flagged the formulation of a draft bill during his contribution to the mid-year budget debate in the Senate.
He said legislation will be based on similar provisions found in Australian law.
Up to March 28, 281 migrants had been apprehended for the year, according to the Royal Bahamas Defence Force’s records.
These include the arrests of 69 Haitian migrants off Long Island in January and the apprehension of 188 migrants off southern Inagua in March.
In each case, the government has taken migrants before the courts for due process as mandated by law –a shift from standard operating procedures before the advent of the landmark Jean Rony Jean-Charles case.
The case of Japanese national Atain Takitota, who was unlawfully imprisoned here for eight years between 1992 and 2000, was used to affirm the legal position given in Mr Jean-Charle’s ruling, which is that detention or arrest with a view to deportation without being taken before a court is not permissible.
Yesterday, Mr Bethel said while he did not share the opposition’s view of a potential overloading of the court system if apprehended migrants plead not guilty to illegal entry, because of the economic impetus for migrants, he noted the government must prepare for the worst.
He added: “These reforms will hopefully make it very clear that persons who unlawfully enter or remains in the Bahamas will truly find ‘swift justice.’”