Current approach to immigration has failed

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Tribune Columnist Adrian Gibson

By ADRIAN GIBSON
ajbahama@hotmail.com

THE Bahamas appears to have an unfocused immigration strategy, with politicians seemingly adopting a deer-in-the-headlights outlook whilst fretfully pondering the political risks of possibly offending an emerging, purportedly independent “new generation” of voters (offspring of migrants) and satisfying the anti-illegal immigrant stance of traditional Bahamian voters.

Of late, the immigration policies of the Bahamas have not been enunciated and the department has seemingly adopted a more reactive than proactive approach, diverting much of its resources to apprehension and repatriation exercises.

Immigration enforcement is imperative!

Illegal immigration is far more complex than mere round-ups and repatriations. In this country, immigration is an emotive and divisive issue that leaves many Bahamians hyperventilating and demanding waves of apprehensions and deportations.

The current approach to immigration has manifestly failed. That said, the country’s human capital is lagging and we therefore must not adopt an anti-immigrant outlook in today’s increasingly globalized society.

The Department of Immigration must allot resources to properly educating foreigners on legal ways to access this country, particularly those whose frequent attempts at repeated illegal re-entry make repatriation efforts seem like a futile endeavour. We must become conscious of the complexities of illegal immigration and cease our one-dimensional approach to immigration.

Moreover, the Department of Labour should conduct an inventory of the country’s labour needs, granting work permits to incorporate immigrants into a labour system where there are shortages or a lack of local expertise. Quite honestly, a scientific approach should be taken to gauge the number of immigrants, particularly as Haitians are hardly the only foreign nationals illegally violating our sovereign space and it can assist with policy formation.

Currently, there are more immigrants–many illegal–on Abaco than native Bahamians. I’m also informed that in areas such as Rock Crusher (New Providence), the majority of residences are occupied by Haitians, rented to them by unscrupulous Bahamians who charge ridiculous rates, contingent upon a head count. Pockets of Carmichael, Joe Farrington Roads, Over-the-Hill and Cowpen Road remain hotbeds for illegal immigrants.

According to a recent New York Times report, addressing the latest changes to Arizona state’s immigration laws, the law “called for (police) officers to check a person’s immigration status while enforcing other laws and that required immigrants to carry their papers at all times.”

The NY Times report further states:

“The law also makes it a state crime–a misdemeanour–to not carry immigration papers. In addition, it allows people to sue local government or agencies if they believe federal or state immigration law is not being enforced.”

I support the notion of a greater and closer coordination between the Royal Bahamas Defence Force, Immigration officers and the Royal Bahamas Police Force in the fight against illegal immigration. Locally, imposing new requirements of police officers related to the enforcement of our immigration laws is an aspect of the Arizona law worth adopting. A few years ago, when I travelled to Europe, my hosts advised that I constantly travel with my passport as it is a practice–in places such as France, Holland and Germany, etc–for police to request identification and documentation on highways, trains and buses.

Raids

In November 2006, current Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham said that immigration raids almost exclusively target poor black neighbourhood, while wealthy individuals who “pay to play” are not required to have their immigration applications scrutinized. Indeed, whilst Haitians constitute the largest bloc of illegal and legal immigrants, there are certain classes of immigrants (usually white collar workers)–Americans, Chinese, Canadians, Europeans–who get a free pass.

The Prime Minister has also promised to revisit the Immigration Act and its accompanying regulations while proposing amendments to foster transparency relative to various aspects of the processes at the Department of Immigration.

Immigration–particularly the influx of Haitian immigrants–has been a strain on our social systems and public resources. From the 18th century to the mid-20ths century, the interaction between Haitians and Bahamians was mostly by trade. Based upon statistics presented in an academic paper by Patricia Dorsette, the steady stream of Haitian migrants began in 1948.
Over time, Haitians have become itinerant travellers whose powerful ambition to escape their bleak circumstances has become a burden on their neighbours.

The global economic downturn and recent tragic earthquake has made the economic prospects for Haitians seem even gloomier.

Following the catastrophic earthquake in Port-au-Prince, Prime Minister Ingraham decided to temporarily grant status (for six months) to the Haitian migrants housed at the Detention Centre. At that time, the PM’s decision to release the Haitians – even with temporary status – was met with a chorus of dissent and questions about its legality as local radio talk shows were bombarded by livid callers. Indeed, outright disbelief and cynicism was expressed in some quarters about the Prime Minister’s decision.

Amnesty

Last month, six months had passed since the Haitian earthquake and the granting of an amnesty. However, little has been said about the whereabouts of those immigrants who were released from the detention centre under the premise of a compassionate amnesty.

Over the century or so, Haiti has been overwhelmed by abject and systemic poverty, desolation, a wretched economy and unsavoury regimes. Frankly, that nation’s history has been marked by violence and turmoil. After a disheveled band of rebels defeated Napoleon’s army and became the first nation established by slaves, the French contributed to Haiti’s underdevelopment by demanding a large, unjust indemnity for the loss of slaves.

Haiti is on the brink of anarchy, falling deeper into the abyss of impoverishment that many have tried so desperately to avoid.
Bahamians are apprehensive about an invasion of Haitians, as there is little doubt among the general populace that rickety sloops – with countless Haitians wedged in their bellies in scenes reminiscent of the slave trade–are doggedly making the trek to the Bahamas from this ravaged land.

In the Bahamas, the crux of the matter regarding undocumented Haitians is the numbers, particularly as the inner city and some family island settlements are swollen with migrants – many of whom are here illegally. Today, they comprise a sizeable percentage of the work force, working many low-end jobs that Bahamians reject and/or working for lower wages (e.g. construction, agriculture, cooks, house cleaners/maids, yard work, etc).

Indeed, the government must enforce the law and revoke the business licenses of persons hiring all illegal immigrants, threatening them with a prison sentence and, in the case of repeat offenders, seizing businesses. Traffickers of illegal migrants must be charged with treason while the migrants themselves should be charged with misdemeanours or felonies, depending upon the specifics of their offences which can vary from illegal entry charges to much more. Moreover, heavy fines should be levied against landlords who rent to and harbour these individuals.

The Department of Immigration must begin conducting “silent raids”, reviewing the files of businesses suspected of hiring illegal immigrant workers and conducting worksite round-ups. Immigration officers can start at almost any construction site! According to the NY Times, the Obama administration has taken on the imitative of “silent raids”, forcing “businesses to fire every suspected illegal immigrant on payroll.”

Indeed, there is a pressing need for an overhaul of our immigration laws whilst biting the bullet and granting legal status to the children of immigrants. It appears that we have no other choice but to face reality and address the regularization and incorporation of qualifying persons into our society.

The department must also allot resources to properly educating foreigners on legal ways to access this country, particularly those whose frequent attempts at repeated illegal re-entry make repatriation efforts seem like a futile endeavour.

In addition to a country-wide immigration dragnet, cracking down on human smuggling and intensifying immigration enforcement at all likely entrance points into the Bahamas–from Inagua to Abaco to Lyford Cay, etcetera–is of the essence. Continuous Defense Force patrols should be carried out throughout the archipelago and around the entire perimeter of New Providence–the Bahamas’ main illegal immigrant hotspot. Because the Bahamas has an extensive, porous border–particularly to the south–the government should seek to purchase (or pursue donations of) unmanned surveillance drones and helicopters to police the border (the helicopter/s can also be utilized for police pursuits). Moreover, road blocks and random boarding and inspections of passengers onboard jitneys should be undertaken by Immigration officers in their pursuit of undocumented immigrants.

What’s more, a more comprehensive vetting and investigation process should be undertaken when granting and renewing work permits. Further, senior executives and other high-level or white collar foreign workers must be required to pay a much higher fee for work permits than that which is paid for maids and farmhands. In maintaining proper, internationally-accepted profiles, the Department of Immigration should also seek to fingerprint persons entering the country for work-related purposes.

In the next week or so, I intend to visit a Haitian shanty town–with a Creole-speaking handler–to see, and document, migration as it’s viewed from their perspective.

  • Excellent Article! Finally someone articulates the reality of the immigration situation. Excellent Article!

  • ACTUALLY ADRIAN’S COMMENTS ARE VERY ACCURATE AND ON TARGET. IN OTHER WORDS, THERE IS NO IMMIGRATION POLICY. WHEN SHANE GIBSON TRIED TO CARRY OUT A WELL ROUNDED POLICY NO LESS A PERSON THAN THE FNM PRIME MINISTER URGED THE ILLEGALS TO SUE THE PLP GOVERNMENT FOR DEALING EFFECTIVELY WITH THE GROWING ILLEGA; CRISIS. BY SUGGESTING THAT THEY SUE HE HAS NOW COMPROMISED HOW FAR HIS GOVERNMENT CAN GO NOT TO BE IN DANGER OF THE SAME ILLEGALS TAKING THE ADVICE HE GAVE, WHILE IN OPPOSITION,AND TAKE THE INITIATIVE TO SUE HIM AND HIS GOVERNMENT. WHAT GOES AROUND COMES AROUND. THE FNM CANNOT HAVE A PLAUSIBLE IMMIGRATION POLICY; THAT IS WHY THEY REACT AND NOT PROACT.

  • ACTUALLY ADRIAN’S COMMENTS ARE VERY ACCURATE AND ON TARGET. IN OTHER WORDS, THERE IS NO IMMIGRATION POLICY. WHEN SHANE GIBSON TRIED TO CARRY OUT A WELL ROUNDED POLICY NO LESS A PERSON THAN THE FNM PRIME MINISTER URGED THE ILLEGALS TO SUE THE PLP GOVERNMENT FOR DEALING EFFECTIVELY WITH THE GROWING ILLEGA; CRISIS. BY SUGGESTING THAT THEY SUE HE HAS NOW COMPROMISED HOW FAR HIS GOVERNMENT CAN GO NOT TO BE IN DANGER OF THE SAME ILLEGALS TAKING THE ADVICE HE GAVE, WHILE IN OPPOSITION,AND TAKE THE INITIATIVE TO SUE HIM AND HIS GOVERNMENT. WHAT GOES AROUND COMES AROUND. THE FNM CANNOT HAVE A PLAUSIBLE IMMIGRATION POLICY; THAT IS WHY THEY REACT AND PROACT.

  • I think Adrian has some very valid pints but something else that needs to be addressed also is that regulation is good but what about the law that states that at the age of 18 someone born in The Bahamas can apply for citizenship? before 18 they are here illegally and if they wait until after their 18th birthday they are also breaking the law. They claim they are Bahamian because they born here but that aint what the law say it say you apply to be a Bahamian citizen at your 18th birthday if that law isnt being upheld I suggest we pur really stringent policies in place to make sure this regulation thing is not abused like everything else.
    I know that amnesty is a must but there are also laws like if a Bahamian woman has a child outside of the Bahamas with a foreign man the child has to also wait along with those illegals to apply to become a Bahamian…And here it is we have placards up to give people citizens ship who have no ties to the Bahamas whatsoever…Both their Parents are foreigners….not even 3rd generation Bahamian…no tie whatsoever. This is an upsetting situation as a young Bahamian female and this is also an immigration problem and so we should fix everything not just the problems that amnesty international seem to have a problem with.

    Currently its a sin to be a Bahamian in the Bahamas as a female who wants to live in 21st century legally in the Bahamas. I know they say democracy dont exist withou prejudice but if you going out of your way to make foreigners more comfortable in the Bahamas than they are then Maybe the Bahamian female can at least breathe a sigh to know that they are not on the same level as the illegals that no ties to the Bahamas at all besides the fact that they come to bahamas illegally pull resources, have a kid every year and dont pay no taxes and the money they make they send back home to their country.

    The bahamian population is getting small like Japan where they had to force them to go home and procreate because they are so busy working to pay all the bills and taxes involved to be a law abiding citizen…Most middle class Bahamian families cant afford to have more than 2 kids. We better do something fast about this immigration thing because it having a domino affect.

  • Thanks BP, you see the value in the Tribune, Adrian does make some sense.

    • media

      And boy you is one loyal reader of BP Willard.

      BP

      • Yes i agree that one should b legal in another country
        But if for example one is teacher from a froeign country is teaching in the bahamas for 10-15 yrs why that person cannot be granted a 10yr stay in the island? that teacher is a law abiding person contributing to the island in a meaningful way,
        i think the immigration laws should be revised the school that person is teaching should be able to allowed to process that teacher (legal stay)in the bahamas. if by chance that teacher is involve in any legal problem “YES, he / she should b kicked out of the island.i hope u view this whole immigration this from this angle.