By AVA TURNQUEST
and RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporters
FORMER Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration Fred Mitchell is calling on the government to rethink policy outlawing dual citizenship as it pursues law reform.
Mr Mitchell noted “hostility” towards dual citizenship was a remnant of British rule and common among former colonies; however, he stressed it placed an unreasonable strain on families and did not encourage the retention of skilled Bahamian labour.
“I believe that if you acquire (citizenship) at birth without any action on your own, if your mother or father have citizenship that is passed on to you automatically, then I don’t think that should be an issue at all.”
Mr Mitchell added: “It becomes very complicated, because let’s take Sir Sidney Poitier or even my brother Matthew, both were born outside the Bahamas in the US. They are citizens of the Bahamas because their father was citizen of a UK colony at time of independence, so Bahamian citizenship was passed to them.
“But if their children are born outside of the Bahamas, they don’t get citizenship. I think that’s wrong and if we can rectify that, I think we should.”
The Nationality, Immigration, and Asylum Bill 2018 was prepared by the Law Reform and Revision Commission, which is chaired by Dame Anita Allen, and was released for public consultation last month.
In an internal presentation, Dame Allen highlighted the decision of whether to offer citizenship to children born outside the country to Bahamian fathers who were born overseas before independence as a “salient” issue.
Those men would have obtained citizenship under Article 3(2), and as such, are unable to pass on their citizenship to children born outside the country.
Dame Anita said the commission believed people in this category have a “substantial connection” to the country; however, she noted it was not included in the initial draft bill.
Mr Mitchell said: “I don’t think that people should be put in that dilemma to have to choose. In a small country you need the talent.”
However, he noted: “That’s what the framers decided. I don’t think you can get any consensus to amend the constitution any further on any matter. You can’t even agree that women are equal, it’s crazy. I think you have to use the statute law to rectify these matters.Particularly where Bahamian parents deliberately choose to have their kids born in the US to offer them the advantages of both citizenships.”
Meanwhile, reactions to the draft bill continue as it makes its rounds for public consultation.
For his part, human rights lawyer Fred Smith is opposed to a provision in the bill that would prevent people born in the Bahamas to non-Bahamians from becoming citizens if they are 19 and older.
The draft bill seeks to clarify the status of people whose acquisition of citizenship has been deferred under articles 7 and 9 of the constitution.
People in this category are those born in the Bahamas to foreign parents, and those born overseas to married Bahamian women with foreign husbands, and the bill provides them a “right to abode” via a resident belonger permit, allowing them to reside and work until they can apply and while their citizenship application is being considered.
Those who miss the constitutionally mandated time to apply for citizenship, by age 19 or 21, and did not apply for a resident belonger permit in the interim or some other form of status - will be up for deportation; those who have already missed the deadline will have six months to apply for status once the bill is passed before their residency in the country is considered unlawful.
Mr Smith said: “I am encouraged that the government has engaged with the Law Reform Commission to propose a completely new Immigration Act, that is sensible. I have not yet had an opportunity to review it at all because it is quite large and detailed.
“However, there is a provision in the Act which seeks to treat people born in the Bahamas but who did not register between 18 and 19 as aliens and liable to be deported after that time. This is unadulterated savagery of people’s birthrights.
Mr Smith said: “I urge the government in its consultative process to rethink this provision and remove it and instead pass a simple section in the Act which would make it simple for everyone in the country: if you are born in the Bahamas, you are automatically Bahamian, your birth certificate is your identification as a Bahamian citizen, just as it is for an American citizen in the United States.”
“We should stop fooling around with people who consider themselves Bahamians,” Mr Smith continued, “who have always lived in the Bahamas and until Fred Mitchell started his nonsense in 2014 were never bothered with.”
Mr Smith suggested this change would destabilise alleged corruption in the Immigration Department, and dramatically reduce the cost of immigration.
“It would ensure people can live and work and be constructive contributors to society without looking over their shoulders in terror and fear about being picked up and deported all the time, or having to pay bribes to keep their freedom,” Mr Smith said.
“Born in the Bahamas, automatically Bahamian, very simple. Just like Bahamians love to go over to Florida to have babies and they walk away with an American birth certificate and their kids have dual nationalities, people born in the Bahamas should automatically be Bahamian.
“That would be the humane, sensible and modern and rationale thing to do,” he added.
“We need to stop building internal walls, discriminating between people born in the Bahamas. We don’t need immigration walls in the Bahamas. I urge the government to rethink and embrace Bahamian born and bred.”