The Kendal GL Isaacs gym, where hurricane refugees have taken shelter after being evacuated from Abaco and Grand Bahama, pictured in September. Photo: Terrel W Carey Sr/Tribune Staff
By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
SENATOR Ranard Henfield wants undocumented storm evacuees in shelters to be given freedom to reside and work legally in The Bahamas if they divulge information about their traffickers and comply with other requirements.
“Every adult illegal Haitian national in a shelter would be issued a right to reside and work for one year come November 2 if it were up to me,” he said in a Facebook post that sparked commentary yesterday. “(It would be) renewable (up to one more year) if you can provide me with proof of employment in nine months, NIB contributions, an apartment rental agreement and a listing of all immediate family members in The Bahamas. I’d be willing to pay $500-$1,000 for information on who trafficked you in under our radars, from what dock in Haiti to which drop off point in The Bahamas and who’s been employing you.”
He said he believes such a move would eradicate Abaco’s shanty town dilemma, address the problem of people not contributing to NIB, provide business to Bahamian owners of apartments, bust human trafficking rings, empty shelters and restore evacuees with dignity.
When one Facebook user urged the country to follow the law by deporting undocumented migrants, Mr Henfield compared the predicament to the web shop industry which was regularised after a long period in the shadows.
“Government realised that the numbers industry, which was illegal, was extracting hundreds of millions from the economy,” he said. “Not a tax dollar was coming out of it to fund Social Services, the Ministry of Education or any other aspect of our government’s expenditure. One government legalised what was illegal and now it’s paying taxes in the hundreds of millions.
“I’m not suggesting (undocumented migrants) be given citizenship. They are here working now. Living in and erecting more and more shanty towns. They are in the schools and hospitals. We have failed to fix the problem at the root. The root is ‘how they’re getting in.’ I’m proposing incentivising a percentage of them to talk, pay NIB and adhere to the local standards for housing and healthcare.”
The government suspended apprehension and repatriation exercises for people in areas affected by Hurricane Dorian. Last week, Immigration Minister Elsworth Johnson said this does not give illegal evacuees in shelters a free pass. He said to avoid repatriation, they must at least apply for legal status.
Authorities have been on high alert for undocumented migrants returning to Abaco where the country’s largest shanty towns existed before Dorian destroyed them.
Algernon Cargill, the government’s coordinator for relief and recovery on that island, said some who have tried to return to Abaco have been stopped while some have successfully reached the island.
“We’ve encouraged the law enforcement to assist with that because if you don’t have any legal right to be there, there’s no reason to return to Abaco at all,” he said yesterday. “What we’re doing is encouraging people who don’t have a legal right to come to Abaco to don’t come to Abaco. My wish is that we man the airport and ports and deter people who don’t have a legal right to be here because infrastructure cannot support persons who don’t have a legal reason, such as looking after their property or visiting relatives. To be here so as to resettle is strongly discouraged. If you have a home, coming is fully encouraged. If you want to clear your property, that’s fine. If you don’t have a legal right to be in the Bahamas, there’s no reason to come.”
Last week, former Minister of State for Immigration Branville McCartney said undocumented migrants displaced by Hurricane Dorian should be given provisional status as a way for the government to monitor them. He said the designation should come with an expiration date.
Progressive Liberal Party Chairman Fred Mitchell, however, said his party believes such accommodations are not necessary.
“Our position is there is no reason that we see to deviate from standard procedures to deal with any illegal immigrant,” he said yesterday. “Neither is there a reason in immigration enforcement to discriminate or distinguish based on nationality. The only question is are you legal or not and if you are not, home you go.”