This week’s televised meeting between President Trump and US Congressional leaders to discuss policy on immigration has brought the issue once again to the forefront of public discourse in America.
As a matter of major and continuing concern in many other parts of the world, it is also never far from the international spotlight. For example, migration in huge numbers from the Middle East and North Africa to Europe and the current flow of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar to Bangladesh to escape persecution in their homeland, while the issue of free movement of people within the European Union single market is at the heart of the debate about Britain’s departure from the bloc.
Traditionally, the issue is sensitive in the USA, not only because it is a nation of immigrants itself but also because of the President’s controversial and apparently inflexible stance so that immigration policy has turned into a long-running dispute simmering just below the surface. Perhaps here in The Bahamas we can learn some lessons from experience elsewhere as we watch developments in the US and Europe and are reminded of our own problems in relation to migration from Haiti.
Immigration is taking centre stage in Washington because of the pressing need to deal with the system of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) which dates back to 2012 and may now be phased out so that thousands could face deportation. It provided a level of temporary amnesty to minors who came to the US with undocumented parents but it does not give them legal status. To the outsider, the logical, decent and humane action would be to grant them citizenship. But this is likely to be opposed by conservatives who reject amnesty on the grounds it opens the floodgates to other illegals looking for a pathway to eventual citizenship.
In addition to DACA, other issues like “chain” immigration remain to be resolved in the US before moving on to so-called comprehensive reform to handle the estimated 11 million unauthorised immigrants. Securing the nation’s borders – including the much discussed wall in the south – and protecting the interests of US citizens and legal immigrants through a merit-based system seem to be essential while immigration reform will also need bipartisan political support.
Meanwhile, the refugee and immigration crisis in Europe is unending. Thousands continue to try to reach Europe either to escape conflict in the Middle East or to break loose from poverty and deprivation in their own countries. Once they have reached a European Union nation state, they can move freely within the borderless Schengen area, and German Chancellor Merkel’s open door policy will doubtless have encouraged more and more to come. This has contrasted with the refusal by Poland, Hungary and others to accept EU quotas for member states. In the circumstances, it is surprising French President Emmanuel Macron, a staunch supporter of the EU, has announced a stronger immigration policy involving a clampdown on those arriving illegally including expulsion of economic migrants who do not qualify for asylum. He is quoted as saying: “We cannot welcome everyone and we can’t act without rules.”
The mass movement of people across international borders is clearly unworkable and unsustainable. Uncontrolled large-scale immigration causes major disruption in the receiving countries. In The Bahamas, we are faced with large numbers of Haitians seeking a new life here. Unless Haiti can achieve greater stability and rebuild its economy in order to provide a reasonable standard of living for its ten million citizens, the flow of refugees and economic migrants northwards will continue. Realistically, the prospects of that happening in the coming years seems very unlikely.
We believe, therefore, Dr Minnis’s government is justified in taking its current hard line both in intercepting migrants on the high seas and deporting them as well as in expelling those who are undocumented and therefore living here illegally so long as in doing so the letter of the law is followed. It is right that foreigners who wish to live in The Bahamas should have to do so legally. Last year, the Department of Immigration deported nearly 7,000 people, and in October undocumented immigrants were given until the end of the year to leave or face deportation unless they applied for legal status. In enforcing a clampdown, it is also reasonable to put the onus on employers in the private sector to ensure they do not have such people on their payroll.
We share the concerns of human rights activists about deportation of the children of undocumented immigrants who were born here but failed to regularise their status on reaching the age of 18. Some of them may have feared exposure and will have shied away from the process as a result. We hope such cases will be handled sensitively and, again, with due legal process. In the past, enforcement of the law has been patchy and it is important this should be tightened up.
In addition, we hope the Prime Minister will ensure his instructions more than six months ago to bring forward legislation for establishment of an Immigration Board will be acted upon. In a modern democracy, it should not be the role of the Cabinet to make decisions about citizenship and residency. Unless there are concerns about national security, such decisions should be made by an independent board in accordance with established criteria which are published for all to see.