By RICARDO WELLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
AFTER roughly two weeks of discussion and public feedback related to what many thought was the consultative process connected to the proposed Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill 2018, Immigration Minister Brent Symonette yesterday revealed the Office of the Attorney General was “premature” in its release of the legislation.
The blunder, disclosed by Mr Symonette outside of Cabinet yesterday, now tentatively halts public input to give way to the Department of Immigration’s needed review and assessment.
The St Anne’s MP said he was presently awaiting a formal response from Dame Anita Allen, chair of the Law Reform and Revision Commission, to changes submitted by his senior staff.
He said once this takes place, he can conclude his review and assessment, moving the bill to its consultative stage.
“The new immigration bill is not out for consultation yet,” Mr Symonette told reporters yesterday.
“It unfortunately was put up on the AG’s website. I have not finished my review of it yet with Dame Anita Allen. When I have, I will make comment on it and put it out further.”
“The premature release of it has resulted in some comments, which have been noted, but that was the idea of the consultation; that the bill would be prepared, it would be presented like I did the Arbitration Bill and go out for wide consultation, come back after possibly the summer break and take another look at it.
“Unfortunately, it got up on the AG’s website prematurely.”
The Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill 2018 - which features expanded grounds for the refusal of citizenship under the constitution, and registration and naturalisation under the law to include terrorism, human and drug trafficking, as well as gang-related activities — has drawn commentary from both the political and civic arenas.
Earlier this month, prominent immigration rights attorney Fred Smith, QC, announced his opposition to a provision in the bill that would prevent people born in the Bahamas to non-Bahamians from becoming citizens if they miss the constitutional window for application.
In the following days, Opposition Leader Philip “Brave” Davis made headlines when he indicated that his party would offer several recommendations to the government related to the bill.
Mr Davis at the time said he had received certain assurances from Dame Anita that the version of the bill in the public domain is not set in stone, leaving room for changes.
Meanwhile, for his part yesterday, Mr Symonette applauded the Law Reform and Revision Commission for its inclusion of clauses that will grant children born to Bahamians outside of the Bahamas to non-Bahamian parents the right to Bahamian citizenship.
The process has been a spot of contention for years in the Bahamas, being most recently rejected as a part of the 2016 gender equality referendum.
Addressing the rejection yesterday, Mr Symonette said he was “surprised” that Bahamian women haven’t picked up on the inclusion and come out in support of it.
“I am constantly amazed that the people of the Bahamas turned that referendum issue down because in my daily life, I am bombarded with that on daily basis and quite often I bring to Cabinet the papers that make those people Bahamian,” he said.
The Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill 2018 as proposed, further seeks to address areas of the constitution relating to what happens to people born post-independence to two non-Bahamian parents before their 18th birthday and after their 19th birthday; and those 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 bill will grant individuals 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 people lose their constitutional right to be registered as Bahamians after their 21st birthday.
Those 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.