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Dismay and panic for what’s ahead

Activist Louby Georges.

Activist Louby Georges.

By AVA TURNQUEST

Tribune Chief Reporter

aturnquest@tribunemedia.net

PROPOSED immigration reform that seeks to “maintain this country’s nationhood” has left some activists scratching their heads and migrant children panicked over their ability to remain in the country.

The draft Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill, 2018 seeks to fill the gaps in the constitution concerning the status of people whose acquisition of citizenship has been deferred under articles 7 and 9, before and after they become eligible to apply.

People in this category are those born in The Bahamas to foreign parents, and those born overseas to married Bahamian women, and the bill provides them a “right to abode”, allowing them to reside and work until they can apply and while their citizenship application is being considered. 

It also strips the entitlement of those people to apply for citizenship if they miss the deadline, and provides a six-month window for them to apply for a resident belonger’s permit or face deportation upon passage of the bill. 

According to the bill, a resident belonger’s permit will be granted for a period of ten years, and is renewable. However, a permanent residence certificate remains in force for the holder’s lifetime, unless or until it is revoked.

The same goes for the holder of an “economic permanent residence certificate”, under which a holder can apply for and endorse the certificate for a spouse or dependent child.

Any endorsement of a dependent child will be valid until he ceases to be a dependent, the bill states.

Yesterday, The Tribune spoke with several people who were born in the Bahamas to Haitian parents - the largest migrant grouping in the country, but had not yet applied for citizenship. Most people canvassed pointed to financial challenges and lack of access to documents like their parents’ birth records as the main obstacle to submitting an application for citizenship.

Allie, a 21-year-old graduate of CI Gibson who did not want her surname used, said: “I’ve actually been saving since 2016. You have to pay for a birth certificate to come in from Haiti and then get it translated and certified and I have to do both parents so that’s a lot of money.”

Allie does not have a work permit, and braids hair for a living. She said she got a Haitian passport as required by the 2014/2015 policy change, but noted it had little meaning in the country despite being asked by the Bahamas to register for it.

She expressed concern over the government’s agenda concerning the push for Haitian registration, which was echoed by others interviewed by The Tribune yesterday.

“I don’t think that makes much sense,” Allie said, “we were born here, raised here, all you know is here, so you deporting me to somewhere I don’t know about…you sending me to die.” 

Notwithstanding disappointment they would no longer be eligible for citizenship because they had missed the deadline, Allie and others said they would still seek other legal status to remain in the country.

“I still consider myself Bahamian,” Allie said, “because I was born here, raised among Bahamians. I don’t see myself not being a Bahamian just because of Haitian descent.”

The new bill mandates the minister give reasons for refusal of citizenship applications and allows for decisions to be appealed at the Supreme Court.

Yesterday, Attorney General Carl Bethel defended the bill as a tool to bring greater certainty and fairness in the handling of nationality cases.

However, critics say the bill is silent on accountability for the government as it relates to the processing of applications - a longstanding issue.

The bill also strengthens the powers of immigration officers, as previously foreshadowed by the government, and proposes to make it legal to arrest or conduct a search without a warrant on reasonable suspicion.

‘Head scratching’

Activist Louby Georges, who heads stakeholder group Flipside Association, said: “This is head scratching for us. There are issues with persons obtaining certain documents - how do you prove certain things to get these documents? It is not impossible but it is out of reach for many people.

“With those changes in 2014 a lot of people became unemployed, and haven’t completed their naturalisation or citizenship processes because they simply don’t have the funds.”

Mr Georges continued: “Honestly I’m not sure what the true agenda or motives can be that is driving this initiative. On paper it looks good, it makes for good conversation on the radio, in the news but a lot of us been discussing it and we think that this is an avenue for the government to simply legalize a lot of the illegal activities that they were conducting - particularly the searches. 

“This doesn’t necessarily fix some of the problems that we think exist today,” he said. 

“For example, no one is speaking to the turn over time in applying, the length of time it takes to apply, the widespread loss of documents, the efficiency of the department.

“Where is the law or the policy that speaks to the way that the Department of Immigration should conduct their duties? How do we hold you accountable?”

The bill was prepared by the Law Reform and Revision Commission, chaired by Dame Anita Allen, and was released for public consultation last month.

In an internal presentation, Dame Anita applauded the government for initiating the law reform process, which she characterised as “an effort to better protect our borders, to be tougher on violators, and to maintain this country’s nationhood.”

“It cannot be gainsaid that with the incoming tide of illegal immigrants, there are fewer jobs for Bahamians,” Dame Anita said, “communities where they settle are overcrowded and dilapidated; and social and other services are in danger of being overwhelmed. 

“Moreover, it is often posited, and not unreasonably so, that we may be in danger of losing our national identity.”

Dame Anita’s presentation was included alongside the bill, and an explanatory memorandum, in a package for stakeholder associations to hold consultations with their members.

In it, she suggests the proposals should not be made public until they have been agreed.

Dame Anita specifically highlighted matters related to the statutory authority of a Supreme Court ruling that found the citizenship of the mother is the chief factor for determining the citizenship of a child born out of wedlock; whether to introduce term limits for work permits; and the removal of gender inequality in the transference of citizenship to an adopted child.

Currently, only a man can pass on his Bahamian citizenship to his adopted child.

She said the existing state of the law “hampers the exercise of immigration control” over people born in the country to foreign parents, whom she said have no reason to leave the country after their birth, with no legal requirement for them to apply for resident status or consequence if they do not apply for citizenship within the constitutionally mandated timeline.

Dame Anita concerned over the “Articles 7 and 9 dilemma”.

The former Court of Appeal president said this dilemma should have been tackled by parliament immediately after Independence, but was left untouched until the 2015 amendment introducing the resident Belonger permit.

While it included the right to work for people in this category, Dame Anita noted it was “ineffectual” because it left the decision to grant such status and its duration up to the discretion of the Immigration Director; and did not indicate whether the application could be made by a minor or adult.

 Fear

Charlene, 23, told The Tribune she had a Haitian passport but feared for her sister who was unable to apply before their parents’ death due to lack of funds.

Her sister has a daughter, whom she fears will have an even harder time applying for documents to access citizenship.

“First they told us to do the Haitian passport but the Haitian passport don’t mean nothing,” Charlene, who also did not want her surname used, said. “We have Bahamian people who here and ain’t straight, ain’t never had a passport all their life. But they make it hard for us, we been to school over here, the only thing we want over here is a job.

“They was saying if you born over here, you can’t get deported, so they wasn’t putting no pressure to say going to put in something unless they want to travel. But now seeing these laws changing, you gotta panic.”

Daphne, 25, said: “Immigration been in my yard and my heart was beating so fast. I don’t know Haiti, they ask me for my stuff and I show them the Haitian passport and the receipt of my school letter, they told me that still ain’t nothing I still have to prove why I’m over here. 

“I told them I’m trying my best. I wasn’t working and I’m trying to save up and they said ok, and that they’ll give me some time. But they told me if they ever see me again they’ll just pick me up.

“Some people don’t check, but I try all my best I could. Some things I put in my head to do, just to make money but I say I’m too young for that, and then I don’t wanna get sick. 

“But I just pray, pray, go to church and pray, say God please help me.”

For her part, Dame Anita noted the effectiveness of the bill will rest on the “timely and efficient processing” of citizenship applications.

“Contrary to the view that this reform is a panacea for deporting undocumented immigrants without taking them to court,” Dame Anita said, “I respectfully posit that the exclusion or expulsion from the Bahamas of persons who are not citizens of the Bahamas, must still be done under lawful authority; and the expulsion of any person without fair treatment and due process would be unlawful. The case of Takitota is a case in point.”

The case of Japanese national Atain Takitota, who was unlawfully imprisoned here for eight years between 1992 and 2000, was used to affirm the legal position given in the initial ruling on the landmark Jean Rony Jean-Charles case - which is that detention or arrest with a view to deportation without being taken before a court is not permissible. 

In a Facebook comment yesterday, cultural anthropologist and former Bahamas Director General of Culture Dr Nicolette Bethel questioned whether the proposed changes were constitutional, or sensible.

“Because what happens if/when the applications are made? We do not process those which happen now,” she wrote.

Comments

Well_mudda_take_sic 5 years, 3 months ago

The Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill is nothing but a wrongful and illegal end-run-around of the existing citizenship provisions of our Constitution, and Carl Bethel knows it. Both The Minnis-led FNM government and an internal faction within the U.S. Department of State are succumbing to pressure from human rights activists who could not care less about our existing Constitutional rights. It is not coincidental that only a few days ago the U.S. Department of State was falsely accusing the Bahamas of creating stateless people just because they (and the human rights activist groups behind them) happen not to like the citizenship provisions of our Constitution. Only a few short years ago did the Bahamian people vote on amendments to our Constitution that were proposed regarding the very same matters now being wrongfully put in this new bill, as if parliament alone, without a vote of the people, has the power to amend our Constitution. The people have voted on these matters already. And just because a human rights driven internal faction within the U.S. Department of State did not like the outcome of that vote does not give them the right to try use our dimwitted parliamentarians to do something unlawful (unconstitutional), which is precisely what this new bill seeks to do. If this new bill is enacted and becomes law, we, the Bahamian people, might as well tear up our Constitution because we will no longer have any rights under it whatsoever. Could you just imagine for a moment what the U.S. government would say to our government and the Bahamian people if we dared to tell them to amend their own laws about who may reside in the U.S. and become a U.S. citizen. The U.S. government and American people would rightfully tell all of us to go fly a kite!!!

Well_mudda_take_sic 5 years, 3 months ago

This will be a rubber stamping exercise for the grant of Bahamian residency and/or citizenship to literally thousands of illegal aliens who should be deported. And Minnis is counting on all of the newly minted Bahamian citizens voting for FNM candidates in the next general election. It's all about trying to hold on to political power at any cost, including making us the minority group in our own country. If this new bill is enacted the demographics of our country would be transformed overnight and we could kiss our short-lived period of majority rule good-bye. The Bahamian people have already voted against the matters this new bill now seeks to make law when they voted a few years ago on the proposed amendments to the Constitution. It is patently wrong for parliament to attempt to usurp powers that are reserved solely for the Bahamian people under the Constitution of Commonwealth of The Bahamas. These are not matters for our parliamentarians to vote on. They are matters exclusively reserved under our Constitution for the Bahamian people to vote on. And Carl Bethel and the entire Minnis-led FNM government know this.

Well_mudda_take_sic 5 years, 3 months ago

Most Bahamians unfortunately do not know that a huge blackmarket now exists in Haiti whereby illegal Haitian immigrants in our country, for the right price, can get whatever apostilled documents they need from the Haitian government to present to Bahamian immigration officials for the purpose of obtaining residency and/or Bahamian citizenship. For decades now this blackmarket has been supported by the Haitian government and corrupt immigration officials within our own department of immigration. It has become big business for government officials and their cronies in both countries. All Bahamians must always keep in mind that Haiti and its government are very dependent on hard currency amounts transferred back to Haiti by Haitian nationals who illegally enter our Bahamaland to work and send money back to their families in Haiti. These illegal immigrants are draining our country dry on all too many fronts. As a result, most Bahamians and their family members are today struggling like they never have before, finding it increasingly difficult to make even the most basic ends meet. It's a crisis of monumental proportions all because of the failure (unwillingness) of our successive governments, including our current government, to enforce our longstanding laws for the deportation of all illegal immigrants. Truely sad.

Well_mudda_take_sic 5 years, 3 months ago

It is currently estimated that there are over 80,000 illegal aliens spread throughout The Bahamas, most of whom are of Haitian origin. Upwards of two-thirds of these illegal aliens reside on New Providence Island. The 80,000 figure is the current CIA estimate fed to the U.S. Department of State of the number of illegal aliens in The Bahamas. And even that estimate might well be very much on the low side today! Just think of the huge crisis situation we would all too quickly have if most of these illegal aliens are suddenly allowed to legally reside in our country and/or are given Bahamian citizenship. They won't be able to build or import enough boats in Haiti to accommodate the crowds that would quickly take to the seas headed in our direction!!! Just what kind of foolish message is the Minnis-led FNM government trying to send. Minnis and our AG, Carl Bethel, certainly don't seem to be able to see past their Pinocchio noses !!!!! This foolish new immigration bill, which is unconstitutional, also has the scent of Anita Dames, Ruby Nottage, and others like them, all over it.

Well_mudda_take_sic 5 years, 3 months ago

It seems the corrupt political elite in our country will not stop their foolishness and nonsense until they see the Haitian flag replace the Bahamian flag at the top of the flag pole at Government House. They should be getting on with a systematic deportation policy and break all diplomatic ties with Haiti if the Haitian government resists taking back their own people who are in our country illegally. And if this upsets the U.S. State Department, then Uncle Sam should be called on to find a home for these so called "stateless" people somewhere in the U.S. They certainly have a hell-of-a-lot more land and resources than we do to accommodate them!!!

And to think the Trump administration is deporting record numbers of their own illegal aliens and also wants to build a wall along the southern border of the U.S. to protect themselves from caravan after caravan of illegal aliens headed their way. Meanwhile they are pressuring our dimwitted politicians to grant some kind of residency and/or citizenship to illegal aliens in our country, and to do so in a manner that does not respect the most basic constitutional rights of the Bahamian people. What a joke!

TheMadHatter 5 years, 3 months ago

Trump doesnt care about illegals invading the USA. He is all talk and no action. He delayed revoking the TPS last year and has only built a couple hundred miles of border wall (a lot was just repaired not built)
Now he is talking about closing the southern border. Dont make me laugh. It wont happen. He will find some other outrageous thing to say to turn attention away from the subject. America is over. The invasion is ongoing and cant be stopped - just like our invasion.
The poor people of the world have decided that "It's cool to be poor" and have set out to turn the whole planet into a garbage dump. That is their vision of "equality".

killemwitdakno 5 years, 3 months ago

I hope "right to abode" is based on the foreign parent's status and not the child being born in the country , because if not, you're then attaching parents to kids born on vacation/ right off the sloop. Instant 10 yrs for them when they should be going back with their parents instead of creating more ties setting down anchors? The parents are going to think they can stay in the country with the kid who has rights to reside. Right to abide should end for minors when the parents permit does. They can get waivers/ visas for stay extensions to not interfere with their education tracks depending on whether they're at a critical point or been their for long. Like allowing dreamers to finish high school.

killemwitdakno 5 years, 3 months ago

You're saying they'd already have permanent residency but still have to get renewable 10 yr belonger's permits? What's the difference and who would bother with getting a belonger's if you're permanent?

Confused on this part.

henny 5 years, 3 months ago

I would assume same as the US, a permanent resident acquires a green card, that has an expiration date which is good for 10 yrs. which means an immigrant with a green card is allowed to reside in the US forever but must renew the green card when it expires. He does not have to become a citizen.

killemwitdakno 5 years, 3 months ago

But what I just read on this post states two items, a bleongers, when they'd already have permanent residency (which they shouldn't have unless the parents are). Renewing a green card every 10 yrs is not re-approval. It's updating your photo on the card.

killemwitdakno 5 years, 3 months ago

As much as he tries to call the two the same category, they are not. Half of one is already natural born Bahamians , they're just currently restricted to married male's offspring.

https://www.hgtv.com/shows/bahamas-life…

https://youtu.be/a6Cyotcsp6g

TheMadHatter 5 years, 3 months ago

"Charlene, 23, told The Tribune she had a Haitian passport but feared for her sister who was unable to apply before their parents’ death due to lack of funds. Her sister has a daughter, whom she fears will have an even harder time applying for documents to access citizenship."

So she did not fear her daughter would have a hard time applying before she got pregnant? These people just come here with ONE purpose in mind and that is to outbreed Bahamians and become the majority.

They know there is no consequencw to their actions. They don't have to worry how they will pay rent or where they will get food for their children. The BAHAMIAN churches provide them all that they need.

I also do not believe that they send $US funds to Haiti. That is a believable lie told to turn eyes away from the monies arriving aboard sloops from the Haitian Govt to support their landed soldiers here. All Haitians here are soldiers of the Haitian Govt conducting an invasion of our country. They are wise - but they don't need to be - because the vast majority of Bahamians are too stupid to observe the take-over in front of their eyes.
We are probably past the point of solution now. Haitians have nothing to fear from this new law or any law.

They could send 37 Haitians off the street to sit with the 2 already there next week and take over Parliament and nothing would be done about it. Nothing, trust me. Only thing would be new pictures on the walls of every govt office.

Well_mudda_take_sic 5 years, 3 months ago

For these human rights activists, when it comes to the subject of illegal aliens, it's always all about getting the government to recognize their wants and needs at the expense of the wants and needs of the Bahamian people. They and their few Bahamian supporters will soon start doing what they always do, i.e. labelling us as un-Christian, heartless, cruel, inhumane, etc., etc., etc. They have a game plan and play book that's all too predictable.

TheMadHatter 5 years, 3 months ago

Yes. A good question is what country are they planning to immigrate to after they finish destroying the Bahamas and the USA.

Well_mudda_take_sic 5 years, 3 months ago

That's what I call a "touché" question!

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