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‘Immigration Policy Racist?’

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With many questions arising about immigration and the repatriation of illegal immigrants following Hurricane Dorian, former Attorney General Allyson Maynard-Gibson questioned whether the country’s immigration policy is racist.

“How could it be fair to round up and deport people who have been for 10, 15, 20 years living and working amongst us?” Maynard-Gibson said in a letter yesterday, noting that Bahamians have become bystanders on the immigration issue.

In the letter, she also suggested that The Bahamas could have a double standard regarding immigration matters.

“On the other hand, if we overstayed our visa in the UK or US, we would be deported and probably never able to travel to US or UK again. Why should illegal persons in The Bahamas be treated differently?” Maynard-Gibson asked.

“Also, the resources of The Bahamas cannot accommodate millions of immigrants, Haitian or otherwise. Clearly, the laws of The Bahamas apply to everyone within her borders. Dare we ask whether The Bahamas is implementing one immigration policy for Haitians and another for every other nationality? Is The Bahamas’ immigration policy (as implemented) racist?”

However, she offered some advice to the government concerning immigration and suggested that a documented evacuee’s status should be restored. 

“The people who, by the government, after Hurricane Dorian, were brought and admitted to the shelters in Nassau, for the immediate future will not be deported. They will be processed to determine their status before Hurricane Dorian and if shown to have status, their ‘papers’ and ‘status’ will be restored to the status that existed pre Hurricane Dorian. Others, of all nationalities, illegally in The Bahamas will be repatriated,” Maynard-Gibson said.

Last week, Minister of Immigration Elsworth Johnson said illegal immigrants living in shelters, who were evacuated after the hurricane, will be deported.

The Department of Immigration then issued a statement advising that the government is obliged to follow the law as outlined in The Bahamas Immigration Act and advised that non-nationals seeking employment in the country must be approved by the department.

However, Maynard –Gibson also suggested that civil society, especially academia, should create safe spaces to discuss this pressing national issue of immigration, “rather than sweep it under the carpet – again.” 

“These civil exchanges will build consensus for immigration policy,” she explained.

Maynard-Gibson also proposed that the government should invoke the assistance of international and national security agencies, for a Defence Force base, migrant processing agency, courts and proper utilities, infrastructure, including technological support in Inagua. 

“This will assist with early interception, interdiction, processing and repatriation of illegal immigrants. Constructing and operating these facilities will create jobs. The electrical supply should be clean energy, generated from wind, wave or sun – again new jobs. There shall be enough clean energy supply to operate the infrastructure including the Defence Force base, courts, houses, offices, schools and clinics. There is enough land in Inagua to create the foundations, including infrastructure, of a new city by December 2020,” she said.

In addition, Maynard-Gibson proposed that the Department of Public Prosecutions should expedite the prosecution of persons involved in the business of human trafficking. 

“This will also create more jobs and demonstrate to the world our respect for the rule of law and the efficiency of our justice system,” she said.

“The proposed safe spaces for discourse will create the opportunity for scores of workable ideas to be sourced and implemented.” 

While making her suggestions, the former attorney general questioned whether Bahamians are prepared to recognize the complexity and the immense opportunity that exists post Hurricane Dorian and their preparedness to fight against xenophobia and hatred.

“Are we prepared to honour the people of Haitian descent who have served and are still serving nobly in Parliament (including Stephen Dillett, who in 1833, became the first black man in our history, to win an election) and many other arenas  of our national life?” she asked.

Maynard-Gibson pointed out that The Mudd and Pigeon Peas shantytowns in Abaco existed for decades. 

“Our brothers and sisters from Haiti, and many Bahamians, live there – in plain sight. Every day, they do what we do, go to work, school, the grocery store, the clinic, church,” she said. 

Written by Jones Bahamas

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