By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
NEWLY appointed Rights Bahamas President Stephanie St Fleur yesterday vowed the organisation would immediately bring legal challenge to proposed changes to the Immigration Act clearing the path for mass deportations without court orders.
Ms St Fleur questioned whether the amendments and supplementary legislation outlined by Attorney General Carl Bethel in the Senate on Monday was a publicity stunt.
"Mr Bethel must realise that what he proposes violates certain fundamental rights and privileges enshrined in the Bahamas Constitution," she said, "namely the right to due process, the right to a fair trial, freedom from arbitrary detention, and the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty.
"The Constitution is the supreme law of the land. This means no one has the right to declare that an individual has violated the Immigration Act except a court of law.
"Perhaps this is nothing more than a public relations stunt on the part of a government that is seemingly so anxious about boosting its popularity that it will pander to the most intolerant and discriminatory segments of society.
"Surely Mr Bethel realises that Rights Bahamas will aggressively fight this in the courts, applying for an immediate injunction, judicial review and constitutional challenge to any such proposed changes to the law."
In the Senate Mr Bethel revealed the government's intention to 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.
Mr Bethel told the Senate his office was also working on a supplementary bill to the Immigration Act called The Unlawful Maritime Entry Bill; which would allow immigration officers to execute mass deportations without a mandatory court order for apprehensions at sea.
In a statement yesterday, Ms St Fleur accused Mr Bethel of following the "playbook" of former Immigration Minister Fred Mitchell.
She warned Mr Bethel and the Free National Movement administration to take heed of the consequences wrought by the electorate concerning Mr Mitchell and his defence of "dictatorial policies".
The proposed changes will also have deleterious impact on the country's bid to secure a seat on the United Nations' Human Rights Council, she claimed.
"International human rights groups and organisations such as the UN and the OAS will be appalled to learn of what Mr Bethel and his colleagues purportedly intend and will make their voices heard around the world," she said.
"The FNM should take heed of this example and realise that they were elected by a wave of progressive and enlightened opinion that is fast becoming disillusioned.
"They should act accordingly by shedding their defence of repressive, undemocratic and discriminatory ideas and finding solutions that recognise everyone's basic humanity and equality under the law."