By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
FORMER Immigration Minister Fred Mitchell yesterday warned the recent Supreme Court rulings concerning migrant detention will have an adverse impact on the vulnerable group as he called on the government to align themselves with the Opposition in the face of “unpatriotic” legal attacks.
Supreme Court Justice Gregory Hilton in recent rulings has underscored the need for the Immigration Department to take suspected irregular migrants before the courts for due process before they are subjected to lengthy detention times or deportation.
However, Mr Mitchell, a senator and Progressive Liberal Party Chairman, has insisted this practice would criminalize migrants and subject them to prison sentences when they are unable to pay fines.
He called the recent applications filed by attorney Fred Smith - which Attorney General Carl Bethel said exposed gaps in legislation on the issue - “mischief making”.
“We’re concerned generally about the mischief making that has been connected with this particular attorney and it has been going on for some time, and I hope now that the government is under attack, (Mr Smith) was their supporter but now they themselves are under attack, that they see this is not a partisan issue.
“Both political parties ought to have common face against those people who would undermine the Commonwealth of the Bahamas and its sovereignty and that is what this ventures into. It is being unpatriotic because what you’re doing is you’re trying to sabotage good governance in the Bahamas by overwhelming us with a number of cases which we already have a difficulty dealing with administratively.
Mr Mitchell continued: “There is all this talk all the time about there being a gap in our laws there is no gap in the law. I’m not arguing whether the law is right or wrong at this point, what I know is the framers of the constitution drafted the constitution in the way they did because that is what they intended and the intention is clear and the law is clear.
“If your parents are not Bahamian citizens, and you are born in the Bahamas, you are not Bahamian, you have to apply that’s it. There is no gap, there is no ambiguity, and the framers of the constitution intended that to be so.”
Mr Mitchell acknowledged the need for reforms at a press conference held in the minority room at the House of Assembly.
“The history of how this is done needs to be examined and I guess this will go up to the policy court which is where it has to be sorted out. So if we’re talking about reforms, one of the reforms has to be, and this was on our plate as well, one of the reforms was that the actual registration of Births Act has to be amended to when the child is born to include a footprint at the time the child is born, and that travels with you.
“One of the reasons why we agreed to implement this policy on November 1, 2014 that everybody had to have a status was to deal precisely with this problem. We said that those people coming 18 years from now would not have a problem because they would have an official track from the time they were born to the time they apply.”
The Immigration Department has come under heavy scrutiny following the landmark case of Bahamas-born deportee Jean Rony Jean-Charles, which officials note has highlighted the need for widespread reforms.
Mr Jean-Charles’ case was among some 15 separate cases in which the government was asked to prove the lawfulness of the applicants’ arrest and further detention at the Carmichael Road Detention Centre.
Justice Hilton, in four separate rulings on Tuesday, said the Department of Immigration did not appear to have utilised the procedures specified in the Immigration Act for reasons “best known to themselves” when dealing with these individuals, and that there is “no other basis” upon which they could be held and detained.
In reference to the case of Japanese national Atain Takitota, who was unlawfully imprisoned here for eight years between 1992 and 2000, Justice Hilton stated that former Court of Appeal President Dame Joan Sawyer “confirmed the legal position in The Bahamas that detention or arrest with a view to deportation without being taken before a court is not permissible.”