South Florida representative Frederica Wilson
By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
A US Congresswoman yesterday called on the Bahamas government to modernise “antiquated” immigration laws that she claims
disenfranchises communities and disadvantages future generations.
South Florida representative Frederica Wilson also called on CARICOM to prioritise growing migration issues on the sidelines of a tear-filled medical consultation for sick teen Taranique Thurston at Jackson Memorial Hospital.
The consultation comes more than a year after the 16-year-old first started experiencing blinding headaches that at times rendered her unable to see clearly or walk unsupported.
Taranique does not have a passport, and her journey to gain entry to the United States on an emergency medical visa has renewed concerns over the unregularised status of Bahamas-born children of second generation foreigners, mainly those of Haitian descent, who were also born in the country.
“These antiquated laws have not kept up with today’s society,” Mrs Wilson said.
“CARICOM needs to place this issue of immigration at the top of its agenda, and tackle it as a problem.”
She continued: “Because what’s going to happen is we’re going to find ourselves more and more stateless people, which is unfair to the next generation that we’re trying to raise and unfair to the people who just want to make a living and take care of their families. So we have to look at those antiquated laws and adjust them to today’s population and how we live across the world.”
The Bahamas government has insisted descendants of Haitian migrants born in the country are legally entitled to Haitian citizenship, and as a result, have no claim to statelessness. People born in the Bahamas to non-nationals are entitled to apply for citizenship at the age of 18, and the government’s policy mandates children seek out the nationality of their parents in the interim period to satisfy requirements for all residents to be documented.
However, Taranique’s mother Ginette Caty claims her repeated attempts to regularise her daughter were unsuccessful. Ms Caty was reportedly born in the Bahamas to a Mexican mother and a Haitian father, and was naturalised in 2013. Taranique’s father, who is not married to her mother, is also a Bahamian. Under Bahamian law, if the two were married at the time of Taranique’s birth, the child would have been considered a Bahamian.
“Even though she was born there in the Bahamas, and I was born there in the Bahamas, we are not considered Bahamian,” said Ms Caty, who yesterday expressed gratitude to officials, friends and family whose efforts have put her daughter within reach of potentially life-saving medical treatment.
“I had days I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat,” Ms Caty said. “My daughter kept saying ‘so what they’re going to leave me here to die?’ I had some money saved up to get my home, I’m a single mother. I took that money and took her to Doctors Hospital, and that’s where we got the diagnosis and referral to Jackson Memorial - that was April of this year.”
“We’re here,” she continued. “We’re happy to be here. The most important part is we just want to get it over with and behind us.”
Taranique is slated to receive an MRI scan today and told The Tribune she was scared but happy to be finally making progress on her medical journey. The past few months have been emotionally taxing on the teen, who was said to have experienced intense social media backlash since her mother began publicly appealing for government intervention in her case, and medical assistance.
She was reportedly found in her bedroom with a knife by an aunt earlier this year, according to her mother, who said attempts to shelter her daughter from vitriol due to her ethnic background both online and in her community has proven difficult.
Yesterday, Mrs Wilson described the Bahamian government’s response on the matter as slow and uncooperative.
“It took a lot of communicating with the State Department, and with the Bahamian government who was unable to understand the urgency and they were unwilling to work with us,” she said.
Taranique was issued a certificate of identity in August, and it lists her as a Haitian national.
Mrs Wilson drew parallels between the Bahamas’ immigration policy and that of the Dominican Republic, which began to retroactively strip people of Haitian descent born in the country of their prior entitlement to citizenship and deport them following a 2013 court ruling. The Dominican government has denied claims that thousands of people were made stateless by its regularisation plan.
“There are a lot of similarities,” Ms Wilson said. “They (the Bahamas government) need to figure out a way that they can to make this amenable to the people that they have. See that might have been ok 50 years ago, when we didn’t have all of these open borders and immigration going on and parents inter-marrying with people from different parts of the Caribbean.
“When it was just Bahamians or when it was just Haitians or when it was just Dominicans. When you begin to intermarry and you begin to travel, and you begin to emigrate to different parts of the Caribbean, then that’s an issue that CARICOM needs to take up. That needs to be at the top of their agenda because what are they gaining by disenfranchising people? Except a lot of suffering, which is half of a Haitian, half of a Bahamian, half of an American, half of a Dominican, all of these people are the same.”
Mrs Wilson, who noted her familial ties to former Sports Minister Dr Danny Johnson, said: “Same bloodline, it’s nuts, same island, same neighbours, it’s crazy. It doesn’t make any sense at all so CARICOM really needs to put some thought into how they can solve this.”
CARICOM member states took historic steps to review and accelerate full implementation of the Single Market and Economy at its summit in July.
However, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis told media upon his return the country has no intention to become a signatory. Among its tenets
is the Protocol on Contingent Rights - a framework for the free movement of skilled labourers and their families between member states.
Immigration is a key element of the US Democratic campaign, according to Mrs Wilson, who said her party hoped to regain control of both the House and Senate in upcoming elections. She pointed to last week’s federal court ruling halting the Trump administration’s decision to bring an end to temporary protected status for refugees from El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Sudan.