By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE Minnis administration’s proposed Nationality and Immigration Bill does not change how Bahamian men and women transfer citizenship to their children, Progressive Liberal Party chairman Fred Mitchell said yesterday.
The Minnis administration in 2017 promised to amend the Bahamas Nationality Act to redress the constitution’s citizenship inequities –– giving Bahamian women the right to automatically transfer citizenship to their children regardless of where their child is born and giving automatic citizenship to children born to an unwed Bahamian man and a foreign woman.
Mr Mitchell, former minister of immigration, said yesterday nothing in the draft Nationality, Immigration & Asylum Bill appears to change the status quo on how citizenship is granted.
“With regard to citizenship,” he said, “so far looking at the bill I haven’t seen anything that strikes me as other than what is in the constitution. When I read it, it just seems to me to be repeating what’s in the constitution. It didn’t change the substantive law.”
During a speech to the Rotary Club of Southeast Nassau in 2017, Attorney General Carl Bethel explained how the government intended to expand automatic citizenship rights to children of Bahamians.
“It’s a very, very simple amendment we will put forward,” he said, insisting the amendment would not betray referendum results after administrations sought and failed to equalise the citizenship rights of the sexes through constitutional changes. He said the government would amend section six of the Bahamas Nationality Act, removing the words a “minister may at his discretion cause a minor child of a citizen of the Bahamas to be registered as a citizen of the Bahamas upon application” and replacing them with the mandate that the “minister shall cause the minor child of a citizen of The Bahamas to be registered as a citizen of The Bahamas upon application.”
The government’s chief motivation was to remove an administration’s discretionary ability to grant citizenship to children of Bahamian citizens. Replacing “may” with “shall” would accomplish this, he said at the time. It is not clear if this change is captured in the newly proposed bill.
The PLP will meet Law Reform and Revision Commission Chair Dame Anita Allen next week for a briefing on the bill, Mr Mitchell said. One significant difference between the bill and the law it would replace is the establishment of a National Advisory Commission, a eleven-member body that would advise cabinet on applications for registration and naturalisation.
“I’m not sure that a commission can pass constitutional muster,” Mr Mitchell said, “because I believe the responsibility ought to be vested in the government of The Bahamas and I don’t see any reason to disturb the present procedures. The present procedures are fine as far as I’m concerned. The only issue is that administratively they are cumbersome to execute because it now requires the full sitting of a Cabinet. You can imagine if this now is going to be referred to a commission of a dozen people, so if you want to talk about complications, I think those are my initial reactions there.”
Mr Mitchell complained about the decision to address issues relating of nationality, immigration and asylum in one bill. “The first thing that struck me about this is and we’d want to find out, is why is the bill as large and voluminous as it is? It puts in my view three separate and distinct subjects that ought to be treated by separate bills. I will be arguing for separate bills on any of those subjects so when they come to the House they are dealt with as separate issues. I don’t think one ought to be mixed up with the next.”