By K Quincy Parker
Local US Embassy officials and a former ambassador are denying claims that the US is dumping non-Bahamian criminals in The Bahamas.
Earlier this week, former Assistant Commissioner of Police Paul Thompson Sr. insisted that non-Bahamian criminal deportees from the US are becoming a plague on the local community and he insisted the Bahamian government ask the US to stop.
Asked to respond to the claim, US Embassy spokesperson Erica Thibault said, “The US Embassy coordinates closely with the Government of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas on all deportation issues involving the United States and The Bahamas.”
Former Ambassador of The Bahamas to the United States Joshua Sears, who served most recently as director general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, spoke with the Journal about Mr. Thompson’s concern.
“That’s not the reality I’ve been accustomed to. I served as ambassador of The Bahamas to the United States for six years and the process of deportation is very well organised. Persons’ bona fides are established, there is consultation between the respective governments, lists are transferred and arrangements are made,” Mr. Sears said.
“There is a very transparent process and protocols which exist to govern these arrangements, so I could not support such a statement. That certainly did not reflect any activity while I served as ambassador.”
The Journal asked Mr. Sears if he was directly aware of any instance in which a criminal deportee turned out to be a non-Bahamian.
“I’ve not had that experience, but it is entirely possible that – for example – a Haitian born in The Bahamas after 1973 would have a Bahamian birth certificate, and the United States may, on a prima facie basis, assume that that person is a citizen of The Bahamas,” he said.
“We know, according to our constitution, that person is not a citizen of The Bahamas, so we as the authority – certainly [through] the foreign ministry and national security – those things are checked. They submit the names to be checked and if they are not citizens of The Bahamas we object. And as far as I’m aware, there has never been a case where [an objectionable person] has been sent to The Bahamas.”
The Journal was unable to get comment from law enforcement authorities by press time.
Mr. Sears said that it was “clarified” years ago that only individuals who are nationals of the receiving country are deported to that country. He also noted the issue of Caribbean nationals who left the region at very young ages.
“The argument is sometimes made that these persons acquire their skills while they are in the United States, but that’s an entirely different matter. The basis on which persons are repatriated is based squarely and ultimately on nationality,” he said.
For the last decade or so, there have been several discussions within the organs of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) – and also bilateral discussions with the United States – regarding criminal aliens.
Mr. Sears noted that the United States changed its laws several years ago, enabling them to deport to ‘country of origin’ nationals who have committed crimes in the United States and who have served their sentences, or in cases where requests have been made to transfer those nationals to the country of jurisdiction to serve sentences there.
“This issue has been discussed widely for many, many, many years. Of course, the Caribbean countries held the view that the United States should not deport these criminals back to their territories, as they contribute to the criminal class in their particular countries,” he explained.
“It’s an issue that is certainly of long standing.”
Regional Position – No Deportees, Please
In January 2011, Grenadian Prime Minister Tillman Thomas – then CARICOM chairman – said he would continue to appeal to developed countries such as the United States and Britain to reverse the policy of deporting criminals to the Caribbean.
At the time, Mr. Thomas said the practice of deporting those that are convicted of criminal activities after they have completed their incarceration is causing significant hardship for the region.
He voiced a view held around the region: he said the practice of deporting Caribbean criminals to their homelands has led to an increase in crime and in sophistication of crime activity and seriously added pressure on the resources of the police and law enforcement agencies. This is a view supported, in varying degrees, by many in the law enforcement establishment in The Bahamas.
Mr. Thomas promised at the time to ask authorities of the deporting countries for “some assistance towards the development of our capacity to deal with the adaptive/re-entry problems that are endemic to deportees with criminal histories, especially those who were convicted for crimes involving violence and/or the sale of use of narcotics.”
Every year, the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada deport thousands of persons back to the Caribbean after serving jail terms and in 2002 the CARICOM Regional Task Force on Crime and Security had recommended that countries establish offices for the resettlement of deportees.
Mr. Sears alluded to bilateral discussions with the US on the deportee matter. Those closed-door talks were the subject of communications between the US Embassy in Nassau and the State Department, as evidenced by inter-agency communications leaked by whistleblower WikiLeaks. While some CARICOM countries rejected the offer to participate in exactly such a programme as Thomas described.
The Bahamas did not reject the project, but it is not clear where implementation of the project currently stands.
In 2008, in a memo presumably written by Political/Economics Officer Dr. Paul Jukic, the US Embassy in The Bahamas sent a cable under the title “Bahamas Remains Committed To Deportee Reintegration Programme.”
“Top Bahamian government officials remain committed to implementing IOM’s State Department-funded Deportee Reintegration Pilot Project, voicing no regional reservations or caveats,” the report said. “The Bahamian position indicates that there is no ‘CARICOM consensus’ to decline U.S. aid on deportees.”
“With crime now the single most important domestic political issue, as elsewhere in the Caribbean, the government is clearly unwilling to forego assistance that could help it solve practical problems and maintain law-and-order credentials. Coordination among government agencies, rather than regional sensitivities, remains the main challenge to the project’s quick implementation. Post will continue to urge expeditious attention to starting the program.”
Again, it is not clear what the status of this programme is.
Journal investigations continue.