EDITOR, The Tribune.
Fred Smith, Esquire, QC, needs to be reminded of the very arduous lesson that French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte found out the hard way in 1812. With his Grande Armée (the largest in the history of war at that time) he had all of Europe at his feet but then he overplayed his hand and invaded Russia only to be rebuffed and humiliated.
Napoleon remarked at the time that the mighty could go from the sublime to the ridiculous very quickly.
Hubris will get the better of Smith before too long as he continues to overplay his hand in his contretemps with the government over the legal status of some Bahamas-born, Haitian descendants of illegal immigrants, to whom the Constitution does not extend any immediate automatic right to remain here.
Smith seems to have negotiated a Faustian bargain that has taken him from advocacy to attack mode. Instead of pushing for thorny constitutional issues to be resolved through the courts he has decided that he will over-ride the Cabinet and make his own immigration and foreign policy. This is a parlous position to take.
He now runs the risk of alienating an important constituency that could help him achieve his goals. There is a community of influential Bahamians who hold no state office or rank in any civil society organisation but who are a part of a whispering army that holds tremendous sway with politicians in the shaping of national policy.
These kitchen cabinet boosters found sympathy with Smith when he railed against a system that had removed his client from The Bahamas before the client’s claim to remain here could be adjudicated.
The government, influenced by these boosters for sure but dictated to by a court order, got his client back here from Haiti to have his day in court. That is when Smith began to descend from the mighty sublime into ridicule.
His latest absurdity is that he is acting to undermine the lawful policy of our government by calling on the government of Haiti to abandon international law and refuse to accept the repatriation of its own citizens who are expelled from a sovereign state in which they had no legal leave to reside, or at best their status was in question.
Mr. Smith ought to know that even the United Nations High Commission for Refugees comes down on the side of The Bahamas in this debate. They have lent the imprimatur of the UN to our exercise of repatriation in the past.
The Haitian government recognises the issue of their citizens being expelled from other countries. For a long time, they had an official cabinet level portfolio called the Ministry of Haitians Living Abroad. Their brief was to deal with all manner of issues affecting their diaspora, repatriation being one.
They tacitly recognised that less than 10% of their population at home and abroad have the required documentation (birth certificates, passports, baptismal records, etc) to prove that they or their parents are Haitian nationals and so there is normally only a cursory vetting of their diaspora expelled from the US, Canada, France, Turks and Caicos and, yes, The Bahamas.
Prime Minister Minnis is doing his best to thread a very difficult needle. He must be given credit for tackling the problem head-on. The court has now thrown a spanner into his plans and so Cabinet will have to make new public policy on the fly depending upon the eventual ruling in a case that will likely end up in the Privy Council, if Smith has anything to say in the matter. And he definitely will.
Smith is a Queen’s Counsel and he obviously knows that when a matter is sub judice, it is off limits to public discussion. But still he persists and, to be fair, he has been winning a few battles, but the fog of war seems to block his view on how we as a country diffuse a complex immigration kerfuffle that is 50 years in the making.
Rights Bahamas, the group that Smith heads, and all other Bahamians should insist that we treat those persons detained by the state in a humane fashion. The Immigration Department must follow the law when it comes to removals. Get new arrivals before a judge in the stipulated timeframe or get them to sign waivers to take the fast-track back home.
Most Bahamians find it difficult to accept that given the tenacity of the Haitian diaspora here, they didn’t have outreach programmes on the airwaves and on social media to remind savvy young people born here of their need to apply for citizenship on their 18th birthday.
The Prime Minister gave adequate notice to all to get their house in order before the end of last year or face the consequences. Rights Bahamas could have joined in the campaign to remind those affected that enforcement action was coming. Instead, Smith chose to invite Haiti to create a diplomatic incident by refusing to accept its own citizens that we repatriate.
As a descendent of the first back republic in the western hemisphere, Smith needs to remind his audience of the similarities in Haitian and Bahamian citizenship laws.
A person born in Haiti does not automatically receive citizenship. A child, regardless of where they are born, is considered Haitian if either their mother or father is a native-born citizen of Haiti.
Then Haitian law gets more convoluted. According to their 1987 constitution there is a prohibition on dual nationality. The Haitian constitution automatically cancels Haitian citizenship the moment a Haitian takes a foreign nationality. The only exception is for a child with Haitian parents born outside Haiti who may acquire and hold the citizenship of their birth country as well as Haitian citizenship.
The catch is when that child turns 18, the Haitian constitution forces him to renounce one of these nationalities.
In our laws, a child born here to Haitian parents is Haitian exclusively until his 18th birthday at which time he can apply to become a Bahamian. If he accepts our citizenship he would automatically lose his Haitian nationality.
Fred Smith is skating on thin ice and he could lose the best friends he could ever wish for: those Bahamians willing to entertain his hare-brained, publicity grabbing stunts and give him the benefit of the doubt.
Fighting for the rights of others to remain here is one thing, trying to embarrass us on the international stage is another thing all together.
March 7, 2018.