By RICARDO WELLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
ATTORNEY General Carl Bethel said yesterday the government’s proposed Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill is seeking to establish greater certainty and fairness in its handling of nationality cases.
Addressing the legislation outside of Cabinet, Mr Bethel said the government would provide a legal framework to improve upon its ability to deal with offenders, while still being able to appropriately deal with asylum seekers and anyone that otherwise qualifies to reside or work in The Bahamas.
The bill, which is currently out for public consultation, will, among other things, subject persons born in The Bahamas post-independence who have not applied to be or have not been registered as a Bahamian citizen by their 19th birthday to deportation within six months of its implementation if some other legal status is not secured.
The NIAB 2018, as proposed by the Law Reform Commission, further seeks to address areas of the constitution relating to what happens to persons born post-independence to two non-Bahamian parents before their 18th birthday and after their 19th birthday; and those persons born outside of the Bahamas to a Bahamian mother before their 18th birthday and after their 21st birthday.
These issues are derived primarily from articles 7 and 9 of the constitution; but aren’t addressed therein or by later amendments.
The NIAB 2018 will grant persons in both these categories — born outside of the Bahamas to a Bahamian mother and born inside the Bahamas to two non-Bahamian parents — the “right of abode” or the right to live in the Bahamas while a minor, up to the age of 18.
In the case of those children born to two non-Bahamian parents, they will be given an opportunity to apply for a resident belonger’s permit if they are in the custody and care of a parent or guardian who has the right to live in the Bahamas.
Additionally, this classification of person will now have a right to legally live and work in the Bahamas up to the time they apply to be registered as a Bahamian citizen and while that application is being processed and/or appealed.
The new bill will also establish that these persons lose their constitutional right to be registered as Bahamians after their 21st birthday.
Those persons whose time to apply to be registered has already expired, would be given six months from the date on the bill’s passage to apply for some form of status — naturalisation, permanent residency, etcetera — or face jail time or deportation.
When asked about the implications of the bill once passed, Mr Bethel said the bill is merely seeking to provide “clarity” and give the government the legal flexibility to determine, based on consideration, whether or not a person should be deported or whether or not some other arrangement should be made.
“But right now, the law is silent,” he contended. “It seeks, merely, to give greater clarity. I am sure that human rights groups or vested interest, for example one of the groups being consulted in the Haitian Pastors Association, may have something to say about that period of six months. They may want it longer. But it stands to reason that if someone had 18 years to make up their mind at the age of 18 to apply for Bahamian status, which the constitution would have given them, and failed to do so, it may raise a question.”
He added: “I don’t want to say exactly what question it is, because that would be a question for the appropriate minister, in this case the minister of immigration, to make the first judgment on.”
However, in furthering his observation of the proposed bill, Mr Bethel insisted that passing any new law does not summarily stop the “ceaseless assaults upon our sovereignty” by “economic migrants”.
He said, based on the language of the proposed bill, economic migrants will not qualify for asylum, and once it is determined a person entered the Bahamas unlawfully, the bill will provide a more “modernised framework” and “greater parity” as to those circumstances in which those persons can be returned to their home country by lawful process or summarily.
“…The bill seeks to do is to clarify the law. There has been, since the last Immigration Act was passed many years ago, there have been many developments in common law, in the decisions made by the courts which this bill, hopefully, will capture at the end of the day. Of course, it was out for consultation and there may be further changes,” Mr Bethel said.
He added: “…As a result of our obligations to these international communities that we have undertaken, so for example, our commitment to the United Nations’ Commission on Human Rights, we have brought in a number of protective measures really without the benefit of a legal framework in which to do so.
“So for example, unaccompanied minors are subjected to special consideration to make sure that they are not victims of sex trafficking or human trafficking.
“Women with their children are kept segregated from the general population if they go into the Detention Centre, they are kept in separate housing so that there is no risk of any kind of malpractice or ill-treatment according to women and children.
“So these things are all going to be captured in the bill to formalise our legal commitment to those things that we have brought into effect over the past decades to improve the quality of services rendered by the immigration authorities in this country and to make for a more efficient system of determining the rights of individuals within our boundaries,” Mr Bethel said yesterday.
The Law Reform Commission is chaired by former Court of Appeal President Dame Anita Allen.