EDITORIAL: Is there not a better way than detention?

Disadvantageous, dangerous and reckless.

That was Deputy Prime Minister Peter Turnquest’s verdict on the suggestion that we should “fling open the doors” to migrants.

The rhetoric sounds good, and we’re sure it sounds tough to voters but that wasn’t quite what was being suggested.

Fred Smith, QC, called on the government to stop detaining undocumented people. What was his suggestion instead? Let them work.

Of course, the natural reaction of many is to shout such suggestions down, and say that if people want to come to The Bahamas, they ought to do it the right way, but let’s take a closer look at the idea.

Firstly, undocumented people are not necessarily new arrivals who have just found a way past RBDF patrols to reach our shores.

We often hear of patrols holding spot checks or staging raids on areas to pick up undocumented individuals, so many of these are people already living and working – yes, working! – in our communities.

We emphasise the working element there because one of Mr Turnquest’s first responses was to declare that the nation has around 10 percent unemployment, and asked “How do we absorb illegals into the work force?”

Let’s not pretend that undocumented people are not already in the workforce. The Bahamas has a largely unacknowledged raft of workers tending gardens, cleaning houses, doing the work that many need done but not always with the right paperwork.

Allowing undocumented individuals to work would in many cases simply be an acknowledgement of what is already happening.

It is often being done with people being paid in cash or off the books – but bringing people properly into the workforce might help us record such activity correctly, and tax accordingly. It could actually bring income to the government to take up Mr Smith’s suggestion.

On the other side of the equation are the costs it takes to detain people – the running of Carmichael Road Detention Centre, the money it takes to feed, clothe, shelter undocumented individuals, the medical costs associated and more.

Sometimes – as court cases have shown – people are held for years in detention. Years. Is there really no better way?

If, rather than spending so much money on detention, we could pay for express court hearings to assess whether individuals have a right to stay in the country, would that not be a better way? We would hope modern technology might offer a monitoring solution – if used wisely.

And if undocumented people work, they also become consumers, and there is opportunity for Bahamians to grow their businesses from the money being spent.

Protesting over finding room for new workers when there is a 10 percent unemployment rate presumes those workers taking a bigger share of the pie – rather than understanding they can help make a bigger pie.

Immigration is of course a problem to be dealt with – people languishing in detention for years is no solution.

We do not pretend that Fred Smith’s suggestion will solve the problem – but might it not be worth considering innovative answers when traditional methods are getting us nowhere?


Economist 5 years ago

Very good editorial. Of course they are already in the economy and so we should regularize them.

The key is to get the RBDF to do its job. They are the ones who should be sent home. All they do is collect a cheque for doing nothing.
The number of Haitians who have made it to Bahamian shores shows that the RBDF does nothing and should be disbanded.


tetelestai 5 years ago

Disagree, Economist. And, I understand that Tribune message board in not the best place for a nuanced discussion on immigration but, you can't regularize an illegal act - which by the way is what most (not all) of the undocumented immigrants have committed. Human beings that arrived here illegally should not be gifted with a pardon for said illegal act. Is that not the same thing we did with the "numbers" boys? Pardoned an illegal act. And, judging by the comments on this board from Muddasick, et. al, that act did not go over well with the Bahamian people.


moncurcool 5 years ago

Spot on Tetelestal. It is sad that the argument being used it since we know it is happening, even though it is illegal, let's just authorised it publicly. How does society continue to be civil, if just because illegal acts happen we say let's approve it? So cocaine is being sold, and we know it. Do we make authorise it now?


Dawes 5 years ago

Only if we do a 5 year trial of undocumented lawyers being allowed to work. We can then see if Mr. Smith changes his mind. I have no problem with immigration, but it must be legal. The idea that you are found to be here illegally and then left to carry on is retarded. May as well have no immigration department then.


Schemer18 5 years ago

I do not agree with what Mr. Smith is saying that "the undocumented migrants been here in the Bahamas for some time'. One can see Haitian illegal migrants for example comes 250 plus per month into the Bahamas illegally, & we cannot take on these boat loaded issues. Our schools are over populated already with these illegal migrant's children, & the attention from the class teacher of the actual Bahamian born is becoming depleted. Because of the over crowding. We cannot take on anymore stress from Haitian migrants, & the Bahamas has too many of them as we speak. So Mr. Smith needs to put a preposition into Haiti on how to grow that country's economy. The Bahamas is a small country, & Bahamians comes first.


zephyr 5 years ago

Way more harmful than good ...idea and suggestion - by The Tribune via Editorial bias and madness.


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