By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
PROGRESSIVE Liberal Party Chairman Fred Mitchell yesterday suggested the Immigration Department is “perplexed” by the lack of clarity in the government’s position on the recent landmark Supreme Court ruling on Bahamas-born deportee Jean Rony Jean-Charles.
Mr Mitchell, former minister of immigration, said a PLP administration would have applied for an immediate stay of the decision, and appeal proceedings; and furthered the law should be changed in the interim to clarify the roles of an Immigration officer and the court.
Attorney General Carl Bethel told The Tribune yesterday the government intends to file its appeal of Supreme Court Justice Gregory Hilton’s ruling today; however a travel document was issued for Mr Jean-Charles on January 31.
Mr Mitchell maintained that the policy court, the Privy Council, ought to determine whether a judge can substitute his judgment for the application of immigration laws to a particular foreign individual.
Insisting that a determination on citizenship was a role exclusive to the executive branch of government, Mr Mitchell pointed to the 1980 Privy Council ruling on Darcy Ryan v the Ministry of Home Affairs, which ordered the government to act in accordance with the law to consider his citizenship application.
Mr Ryan, who was born in Canada and a founding member of the Grand Bahama Human Rights Association, was granted citizenship posthumously by a Free National Movement government.
Mr Mitchell remarked there was no national consensus on how to deal with immigration matters, adding while Bahamians call for strict enforcement, they do not want it to impact them personally.
“A lot can be said I am advised by the lack of cogency of the evidence presented before the judge,” Mr Mitchell said in response to questions placed by The Tribune, “and there are those who have said to me that the FNM is not sufficiently strong or clear on where they are on this. For example instead of asking for a stay or applying for one, they have said they are complying with the order. The Immigration Department is perplexed.
“The FNM’s position appears to be whatever the lawyer on the other side says goes. The fact that he is tied to them politically makes their attitude suspect. In the meantime, the country’s borders remain vulnerable and the department’s rank and file are very concerned as to what they are supposed to do.”
The PLP senator was likely referring to attorney Fred Smith’s public campaign in support of the Free National Movement, and against the Progressive Liberal Party, particularly himself as former minister of immigration. Mr Smith, and his human rights group Rights Bahamas, were intensely opposed to the introduction of a November 2014 immigration policy put in place by the Christie administration.
Mr Mitchell said: “The law when it was put in place in 1973 was designed so that those who did not have Bahamian parents could not as of right claim citizenship. That is the original intent. Suddenly a group of anarchist and misguided advocates are busy undermining that law by creating a false victimhood in situations where people have for decades knowing the law refused to obey the law and then seek to use the courts to get around what they ought to have done as a matter of law.”
He continued: “In the year 2016, the PLP tried to correct some of the perceived injustices of the law as it now stands and the people of the country largely misled by the FNM and some misguided clerics sabotaged the effort. The result is the law stands unchanged. Now they seek to accomplish through the back door which they sabotaged when it was being done properly.”
Mr Mitchell is likely referring to the failure of the 2016 gender equality referendum; and the FNM administration’s proposed changes to the Bahamas Nationality Act, and plans to create an independent commission to approve applications for citizenship.
He forecast the move would only cause further delay and bureaucracy.
Mr Mitchell noted if the immigration minister was allowed to grant citizenship and permanent residence, the current backlog would be cleared.
He said immigration challenges were largely administrative in nature, but acknowledged there was a role for public education on the benefits of lawful migration.
“There is no consensus in the country on how to deal with immigration matters,” he said. “People say they want strict enforcement of immigration laws but when the law is strictly enforced then they start to howl. This is whether it’s the case of a rich condo owner in Freeport or the lowly workman who hustled his way into the Bahamas from down south. Touch everyone except the person who is related to me.
“There simply needs to be enforcement in a neutral and transparent manner,” he said.