THE government’s plans to change the immigration law regarding citizenship has been labelled as inhumane and unconstitutional, by human rights attorney Fred Smith, QC.
Mr Smith, president of advocacy group Rights Bahamas, released a statement yesterday lashing out at the changes outlined last week by Minister of Financial Services, Trade and Industry and Immigration Brent Symonette.
Mr Smith said “the new policy of denying certain people born in the Bahamas the right to citizenship is inhumane, unconstitutional and discriminatory.”
He added: “His (Mr Symonette) perverse attempt to relegate some children of non-citizens to permanent residency is an unreasonable and shortsighted knee-jerk reaction that cannot stand up in a court of law.
“I remind the minister that ‘policy’ is not a vehicle for making new rules outside the law, but rather a tool for implementing already existing laws. And there is nothing currently in the law that supports this rash move. Mr Symonette must also remember that his government cannot either enact policy or pass any news laws which violate the rights and protections enshrined in the Bahamas Constitution. By any objective measure, this proposed bureaucratic segregation of certain individuals is a clear and flagrant violation of the constitutional right to freedom from discrimination.”
Speaking in the House of Assembly last week, Mr Symonette indicated persons born in this country to non-Bahamian parents, who have missed the constitutionally entitled period to apply for citizenship between 18 and 19, will only be granted permanent residency with the right to work unless other circumstances entitle them.
“Persons born in the Bahamas, lived here all of their lives, (who) apply between 18 and 19 will be considered under the constitutional entitlement as to whether or not they are entitled to citizenship,” Mr Symonette said.
“Those who do not apply in time will be considered and, if applicable, will be granted permanent residency with the right to work. There are obviously other aspects of the rule that apply in terms of length of stay, criminal record and so on and so forth.
“In order for an individual who falls into this category to obtain permanent residency status, he or she must be able to satisfy regularisation requirements, including presenting a passport and identification.
“Mr Speaker, that is the way we will be moving on as we go on,” Mr Symonette continued.
He added: “Unless other circumstances entitle them to, (they) will only be granted permanent residency with the right to work, and not citizenship.”
Yesterday, Mr Smith said the Constitution does not provide for any “prejudicial consequences” for those who do not apply for citizenship between 18 and 19.
He believes the proposed change would intentionally affect the children of Haitian migrants disproportionately and is a “knee jerk” reaction to the landmark case of Jean Rony Jean-Charles.
“This move amounts to the unlawful targeting of an ethnic minority – an extremely serious matter for the Bahamas, both internally and with regard to our reputation on the international stage,” Mr Smith said.
He added: “Shockingly, what the FNM government now proposes is a situation in which foreign nationals can be granted citizenship by Cabinet; but persons born in this country, who have broken no law and known no other home, cannot. These individuals may have failed to meet the non-binding deadline for automatic registration as citizens for various reasons. Obstacles often include: inability to afford the fees or translation of documents, which can cost many hundreds of dollars; difficulty securing the necessary documents themselves, which often requires travel to Haiti; and an inability to apply because the applicants are not in the Bahamas, having been unlawfully deported with their parents, sometimes years before; the sad reality of the Immigration Department losing multiple peoples’ applications, forcing them to apply again.
“Suddenly now, by ministerial diktat, these individuals must apply for permanent residency and pay a fee of $10,000. This is a practical impossibility for most applicants, as the government well knows. The policy can only be construed as a tactic aimed at surgically removing as many individuals of Haitian descent as possible; ‘eradicating’ their presence in the Bahamas – just as the government said it would do with the informal communities of both Haitians and Bahamians which they so dismissively and derisively refer to as ‘shanty towns.’
“Even for those few able to afford permanent residency, huge challenges remain. They cannot vote or open a business on their own, and will find it almost impossible to secure a loan from a bank. The will face increased hospital, school and other expenses. They will not be able to own shares in any companies or trade on the Bahamas stock exchange, and will likely face challenges traveling and getting a US Visa.
“The FNM seems intent upon creating a nightmare scenario for this particular group of people, for no other reason than their ethnic heritage. The government would make second-class citizens of them, simply in order to appease the more xenophobic elements of the public, in continuance of their predecessors’ policy of selling their souls in exchange for votes.”