By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
FORMER Minister of State for Immigration Branville McCartney has suggested children born to foreign parents should be allowed to apply for citizenship at birth as a solution to the country’s immigration challenges.
Mr McCartney also said the constitutional entitlement to citizenship for this group was mandatory, and not restricted to simply a right to apply for consideration.
Both the sitting government and the previous administration have firmly disputed this interpretation, with successive immigration ministers insisting the constitution only provides the right to apply, not to be granted citizenship, for people born in the Bahamas to non-Bahamian parents.
Article 7 of the constitution reads: “A person born in the Bahamas after 9th July 1973 neither of whose parents is a citizen of the Bahamas shall be entitled, upon making application on his attaining the age of 18 years or within 12 months thereafter in such manner as may be prescribed, to be registered as a citizen of the Bahamas.”
The application is subject to exceptions or qualifications set out in public policy or interests of national security, and an applicant must first renounce his citizenship of any other country - if applicable - before being registered.
Earlier this week, Mr McCartney said: “The article in the constitution is mandatory, the word shall is mandatory, it doesn’t say may. However, it’s only mandatory based on the prerequisite - an application, you have to apply and a lot of the circumstances that we have today, many persons have not applied on their 18th birthday or within 12 months during that period. And that causes a number of concerns, you have to apply. If you don’t apply how do you get your citizenship.”
Mr McCartney was discussing challenges related to statelessness in the context of the country’s constitution and immigration laws as a guest on the talk show “Paradigm Shift” with Michelle Malcolm. Ms Malcolm, under the theme “Stateless by Design”, hosted a broad discussion on contributing factors to longstanding immigration challenges that ranged from the large number of people living in the country without documentation and the business of illegal immigration.
Mr McCartney was joined by activist Louby Georges and C Allen Johnson, a tech consultant commonly known by his radio persona, “Critical Thinker”.
For his part, Mr Johnson underscored the chaos surrounding immigration has generated a multi-billion dollar economy that required astute leadership to effect change.
Mr McCartney continued: “You make the application and it goes to Cabinet and the Cabinet will make a decision. Now once Cabinet is satisfied that the application is legitimate, then really they are directed to give citizenship. My understanding though, my feelings when I was there was that if these criteria apply when you’re 18, then they ought to apply at birth - what’s the difference?
“That would solve a lot of problems you have today because you have a number of people…they have this right. So if you are born here after 1973, you have a right to citizenship at the age of 18 once you make the application - that’s how it works.
“The problem we have, we have persons who don’t make the application and of course there are circumstances where the application was made and there are concerns or questions regarding the application. In that article under the constitution it also speaks that the application must be done in the prescribed form. The prescribed form is where you may have some difficulties, who were your parents, what documentation they may have, but quite frankly it doesn’t matter.”
Mr McCartney added: “If they are born here and you’ve shown that they are born here, then the constitution mandates once the application is made that they become a citizen.”
The former Bamboo Town MP reiterated his position on opening up the country to foreign business, but noted the country had still not strengthened laws to protect the country’s borders and discourage people from entering illegally and exploiting the country’s laws.
The panel did not discuss the draft Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill, 2018.