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?