Mitchell Updates the House on Immigration Matters

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Minister for Foreign Affairs and Immigration Hon. Fred Mitchell addresses Parliament over Cuban release.
Minister for Foreign Affairs and Immigration Hon. Fred Mitchell addresses Parliament over Cuban release.

Nassau, Bahamas – 23 February 2016, House of Assembly Communication by the Hon. Fred Mitchell, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration:

Mr. Speaker,

I intend to address immigration issues in the public domain.

The first thing I want to say to the public is that there is no crisis in The Bahamas with regard to immigration. What you see here is a manufactured event by some people whose patriotism and sanity ought to be questioned and who appear to want to do anything including mocking God in order to achieve their ends. What transpired on television from a noted QC borders on blasphemy and mocking God. It is thoroughly shameful and he ought to be very careful how he takes the Lord’s name in vain.

It was embarrassing and everyone know that Fred Smith Q C has only God and that is money.

I wish to repeat a public statement that issued from Placencia in Belize with regard to a decision to release two Cuban nationals in the general population of The Bahamas:

19 February 2016
I have noted the decision of the courts with regard to the two Cuban Nationals: Carlos Pupa and Lazaro Seara.

Please take note of the following:

The Department of Immigration takes the position that these individuals are a national security risk. We continue to support that position. Those were the clear instructions from our principals at the highest levels to pursue that position.

Those instructions did not change and were not changed.

I have asked for an investigation then into how a court was persuaded that two people that the government believes with cogent evidence are a security risk, were released into the general population of The Bahamas.

All of our border forces have been notified of the potential risk of these individuals being out in the general community and should be so warned.

I expect to present a full report to the House on Wednesday 24 February.

End

Consistent with that undertaking I now wish to provide the House with an explanation of the backstory of this matter further to the press release.

In doing so, I wish to say also that arising from what I think is spurious and insidious and deliberate misinterpretation of what the statement said, I caused to be written to the Acting Chief Justice Stephen Isaacs yesterday a note which seeks to clarify the statement and to say there was no disrespect to the court.

Mischief is afoot says Shakespeare and there is plenty to go around in this latter matter.

I cannot Mr. Speaker refer to the matters at hand without dealing with the individuals who have perpetrated the specific mischief that I am seeking to address namely Fred Smith Q C, Candia Dames, a Nassau Guardian Journalist and Michael Pintard, the Chairman of the FNM.

I believe that anyone who knows my association with these individuals would know that it is not beyond conception or belief that what is published from their pens and what is said from their lips is entirely discreditable, given their strange personal animus toward this MP and their total preoccupation, I would argue infatuation with a personality to the point where being ignored they seek to destroy. I pity them all. They must have sad lives indeed.

Each of them in turn have determined for some reason or another that it is in their political or other interest to misrepresent what I have said and who I am in the hope that they can gain some mileage. Mr. Smith wants to be a politician but so far has not managed to get anyone to give him a nomination. When one saw the psychological meltdown which took place on television on Monday last, one can understand why. When one examines the range of rash, untrue, false defamatory and irresponsible statements that he has made, there is no surprise that he has been rejected by every political party in the country. When one recalls that he urged migrants to flood the country with law suits in the expectation that the government would be bankrupted, then you are not surprised that people question his patriotism; others question his sanity.

With regard to Ms. Dames, she published information it appears a stolen cabinet document, and then used the material to suggest a complete falsehood that somehow there was flip flop on the question of the immigration status of the individuals about which I shall speak shortly. I need to deal with that.

Folks in the country will recall that on three previous occasions I have publicly called her out for her lack of journalistic ethics. I am not shy about that, to the point where I refuse without witnesses to be anywhere around her. Her journalism is mean-spirited and silly. In the latest salvo, she claimed that the Minister for Immigration Fred Mitchell wanted the two Cubans released on parole but then changed his mind and now claim they are a security risk.

She put the purloined document together with my press release. She put then put two and two together and made it five. That is bad math; the result is falsehood.

As I explained in a statement to the public and I repeat here,anyone who understands Cabinet government would know that the Immigration Board is the cabinet. The Minister is a delegate for the Cabinet. The Minister’s job amongst other things is to develop the policy choices for the Government and the Government decides. The Cabinet paper’s invitation said the following: “authorize the release of the two men with an asylum certificate or otherwise.”

In other words, while one option may have been an asylum certificate, “otherwise” was for the Cabinet to determine what course of action should be taken.

When I left The Bahamas to represent the country’s Prime Minister at the Head of Government conference in Belize, the instructions from the cabinet and to our lawyers were clear: the men were a national security risk and should not be paroled into the country and efforts should be made to find a third country to take them . In the meantime, the Board was clear, despite the risk of a threatened law suit, the men were to be retained in jail.

The Department of Immigration provided those instructions and directed its lawyers. When the decision was announced, it was quite a shock on the system to find that the lawyers had not offered any resistance whatsoever. It was the view that even if the courts had decided against us, the Government’s position on the national security risk should have been put in the courts so the country could know the extraordinary efforts made to protect the population from people who were thought to be a danger.

Suddenly now these wise people are suggesting that because a statement was made about that, that this was somehow an assault on the court. It is typical of those who seek to try to change the story.

What I ask of them all is why is it that they are always on the side of the foreigners and not on the side of Bahamians?

This is a question that one must ask the effervescent, loquacious Senator Michael Pintard with whom I have a colourful history. He knows that before the 2002 general election he tried to attack me at a College of The Bahamas debate and I unloaded a stream of scatological terms on him, which lasted well over an hour in full and audible public view. It was something I am sure he never forgot. He also knows that when he was a part of my political party the PDF, we parted company when he called for a bloody revolution. He knows also my chagrin on his philosophical about face when he returned from a bad illness in Canada and found out what it was like to be without money in a foreign land to pay for his illness in Canada.

We also know that he is a comedian for a living, and it appears in his most recent utterances on public policy, he is still in that business. The statements were so riddled with inaccuracies that I had to laugh and laugh out loud.

In my public response to him, I tried to counsel him as much as I could that if he were confused on the matter of the Cuban nationals, and Bruno Rufa’s case, he needed only speak to his colleagues on the Opposition bench. His MPs, at least one of them from Grand Bahama,know the story. I spoke to the Opposition’s principal spokesman on Foreign Affairs on both matters in the Government Committee room the last time I attended the House on 10th February.

I now understand that the MP for St Anne’s, the Opposition’s spokesman on Foreign Affairs, now says that I did not have any discussions with him. I insist that I did. I recall it clearly. I spoke with him in the Government Committee room as he and I entered the House at the same time and I gave the government’s position on the Rufa matter and on the matter of the Cubans before the courts.

I did not by making that statement in response to Mr. Pintard seek to give the impression that he agreed or disagreed with what I said. The fact is I said it. That is all.

Now to the two Cubans, released into the general population by order of a court. The two men are considered security risks. We do not wish them to be in The Bahamas. I am advised by our lawyers that they may be rearrested by Immigration.

Here is what the immigration records recall of the two individuals:

LAZARO SEARA MARIN – IMM/CUB/165192
D.O.B. – 12 AUGUST, 1976
P.O.B. – CAMAGUEY, CUBA
20 March, 2013

Committed to the Detention Centre along with nine (9) other Cuban nationals; all of whom were arrested at Kemps Bay, Andros.

Interviewed BY Refugee Administration (Department of Immigration) and found not to qualify.

11 July, 2013

A Deportation Order was signed to facilitate his removal from the Detention Centre to Her Majesty’s Prison (Department of Corrections) because while at DC he actively participated in ongoing commotions, with intelligence reports marking subject as a principal instigator and disrupter. Because of his activities and his previous service in the Cuban military he was considered a flight risk and, therefore, he was transferred to HMP (D of C) a more secure facility.

As he was an Alien Resident of the US since 1994, he did not qualify for refugee status.

12 August, 2013

A Diplomatic Note was sent to the Cuban Authorities requesting that he be allowed to return to Cuba. He was also on a list dated 26 August, 2013 asking that the MOFA seek assistance in returning him to the US. He was not allowed to return to either country.

8 July, 2014
In a subsequent report, it is noted that subject has a criminal record in the US which hindered his eligibility to re-enter and that record, was also a barrier to UNHCR assisting in a third country resettlement.

CARLOS PUPO MENDOZA – IMM/CU/132808
D.O.B. – 14 January, 1971
P.O.B. – LAS TUNAS, CUBA

18 August, 2000
Subject first came to the Department’s attention when he was arrested along with a group of six (6) other Cuban nationals. There is no record of where he was arrested and by whom. There is no profile on subject as he escaped custody on his way to the Detention Centre, on the same day of his arrest.

17 August, 2007
He was arrested by the RBDF and turned over to Immigration. He was in possession of a Florida driver’s license and a US Alien Resident card. He was repatriated to the US on 21 August, 2007 and placed on the Immigration Departments Restricted List.

13 May, 2013
Subject was arrested at Sandy Point, Abaco by the Police and charged by the department with illegal landing at the Magistrate’s Court, Marsh Harbour. He was fined $300.00 or serve 3 months at HMP (D of C). The fine was paid.

He was set to be repatriated to the US, however, the US withdrew their support and denied the repatriation. He was sent to Nassau instead and committed to the Detention Centre.

24 June, 2013
A Deportation Order was signed to facilitate his removal from the Detention Centre to Her Majesty’s Prison (Department of Corrections) because while at DC he incited an uprising and attempted to escape, therefore he was transferred to HMP (D of C) a more secure facility.

12 August, 2013
A Diplomatic Note was sent to the Cuban Authorities requesting that he be allowed to return to Cuba. He was also on a list dated 26 August, 2013 asking that the MOFA seek assistance in returning him to the US. He was not allowed to return to either country.

Since 2013, I have spoken to the President of Panama, to the Vice President of Panama, to the Foreign Minister of Sweden personally about the possibility of taking these people in so that they could be released from the prison and sent on their way. To no avail. In the first instance , we asked, I personally asked the U S authorities in The Bahamas whether they would be welcomed back into the United States. As recently as our monthly meeting in January, the subject was revisited and the answer was no because they had a criminal history in the United States. Their Permanent Residence certificates for the US had expired and they would not be welcomed back.

We met similar resistance from the Cuban government who indicated that as they had left Cuba and were residents of the United States, they were not welcome in Cuba.

Our Prime Minister insisted in the Cabinet discussions that we should exhaust all efforts to have the matter revisited by the Cuban government. He wrote a formal letter under his hand to the Cuban President Raul Castro asking for specific review of the policy to take these men back home. That letter was personally delivered to Cuba by the Minister of Tourism and Member of Parliament for West Grand Bahama and Bimini. We are still awaiting a response.

As recently as the meeting of CELAC last month in Ecuador where I represented the Prime Minister, I spoke to this matter with Foreign Minister of Cuba Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla and he said that the matter was still under review. The matter had been raised previously with him a few days earlier at the ACS Meeting in Haiti where he again said he matter was under review. Both of these meetings took place this year.

It is in those circumstances that The Bahamas’ version of an ambulance chaser Fred Smith then came to the courts to file an action seeking the release of these individuals into the general population. The main focus of these actions I pick what appears to be easy wins and then claim huge legal costs against the government. So the courts are being used to make money, while giving the impression that this is about human rights.

Our position remains that they are a national security risk. We do not want them here, and they should leave.

I was asked to speak to the Americans one more time which I did directly to the Charge by telephone, the day after their release because Fred Smith Q C represented that the two men upon their release would be handed over to their families and would be back in the United States.

The Charge assured me that they were not welcome in the United States. That their border authorities and the headquarters in Washington DC had been notified that the men had been released and were likely not try to smuggle their way back into the US and they were to be stopped and sent back home.

She indicated that their suspicion was that they would seek to make their way to one of our northern islands and then seek to smuggle their way across the Gulf Stream. Their naval forces were asked to be on the alert for that possibility.

Mr. Speaker, given the note of assurance from the QC, is it beyond the possibility that he deliberately misrepresented the position? Could it be that he knowing that the information was false have colluded with these men to get them out of prison being reckless and closing his eyes to the possible risk of them smuggling themselves into a friendly country? Would that not form grounds at the very least for a formal complaint to the Bar Association?

I leave that matter there.

In the statement issued by Mr. Pintard, the chairman of the FNM, Mr. Pintard said that through my arrogance I had challenged the courts on the matter of Bruno Rufa and his stay in The Bahamas. Again Mr. Pintard does not understand what he is talking about. I am advised that there were different legal interpretations about what the Rufa ruling meant.

There are serious complaints on file with respect to his conduct in Freeport.

There is in fact a law suit against a Bahamian who is alleged to have repeated those statements about his causing threats of death. Mr. Rufa has filed a lawsuit against the man in Freeport.

Bahamians stop me in the road and complain about the threats made to their livelihood by him and he according to them boasts of having Immigration in his back pockets, no one can do anything to him and that the court actions will be stretched out until the PLP loses office and then he will be safe.

Those are the reports.

I indicated in a public interview on 22 February that Immigration does not act only on convictions but also relies on matters of credible intelligence. In addition, one must assume that the Immigration Department acts according to law and acts rationally, is not this picture of an arbitrary and whimsical agency that Fred Smith is seeking to portray. Our position is that in law, the Dept. of Immigration has the absolute discretion to say who can land and not land in the Bahamas, may reuse the leave to land and may cancel leave that is granted at any time, for any reason and for no reason, provided that person is not a Bahamian or a Permanent Resident.

Mr. Rufa had the status of a visitor and that leave was cancelled and he was escorted by invitation out of the country last year.

The only reason he is still here is because we have been ordered to allow him to stay here by the courts. Otherwise, he would be gone.

Following his expulsion from The Bahamas, he then ran to Fred Smith QC who put up an arguable case to the courts that seems now to suggest that what happened to Mr. Rufa was an unlawful deportation, that every case of such an expelling of someone from The Bahamas including a visitor requires a deportation order, and the person ought to be brought before a court. To be frank one had never heard of this. We believe that is wrong in law, and the comments made about that in the judgments may not have been strictly necessary to the decision. But that is a call and argument for lawyers.

What we know is that this is not a man who we want in The Bahamas.
We are fighting all the cases in the country which he has filed.

As recently as 17 February, we received this complaint from one of the condo association owners.

Mr. Speaker, I will not call the name because the foreign residents at the Condo are terrified of this man. They report that he bullies them into paying the fees of Fred Smith, some reportedly as high as 200,000 dollars in order to pay for his legal defence. Part of the reason we wrote a letter to these owners who gathered to show support for him at the courts is to indicate to them that they need not be afraid. Nothing in the Rufa matter touches or concerns their individual cases and they have no obligation to pay his legal fees. But the report to immigration is that he is intimidating the people in the condo association and workers in Freeport. As recently as Saturday last, I received a phone call of complaint about the bullying that went on in the condo association meeting by Mr. Rufa.

The interesting thing about the Judge’s decision and the position of the FNM Chairman on Mr. Rufa is that in 2007, following complaints to the then Minister O A T Turnquest and the then Prime Minister, Mr. Rufa was arrested for working without a work permit, similar to what happened in the case for which he is now before the courts and while no charges were brought in 2007, he was escorted out by Immigration using the same procedure out of the country on 21 September 2007.

Where was Fred Smith and The Tribune then or is it only now because the PLP is doing it?

Fred Smith Q C is known for hyperbole and exaggeration, simply saying crazy outrageous things. He is a publicity hound to the detriment of his country. He has defamed the officers of the Department of Immigration comparing them to the Nazi Gestapo. I recalled previously to this House why we parted ways when in opposing the Pindling model of national service, he called for a bloody revolution. It is not enough for people to simply dismiss it as Fred Smith’s brand of craziness because he dresses up in a lawyer’s garb.Crazy is crazy no matter where you buy your clothes. The latest outrage is to call mockingly upon God for me to lose in the general election. God will not be mocked and must not be.

Immigration maintains that consistent with the powers of the Director of Immigration to cancel the leave of a visitor at will, that visitor can have a choice. He can either be arrested, detained and face charges or he can be allowed not leave on their own steam, simply escorted to the airport and out. Often that is a better choice because in theory it preserves the position that the person is not put on the stop or restricted list.

That is the man who Mr.. Pintard is defending.

That is to the best of my knowledge, information and belief and as I stand advised the position on these matters Mr. Speaker.

I need go no further. I hope that the Bahamian people see for themselves how my obligations and duties and that of the Department have been discharged in these matters.

I hope also that they see that this is once again the case of the usual suspects Mr. Pintard, Ms. Dames, the FNM, Mr. Smith all piling on to defend the interests of positions that go against The Bahamas, defending men who put Immigration and Defence Officers and a facility in harm’s way, intending to smuggle themselves back into the United States against efforts to return them home or to a third country. And a man who reportedly boats that he is protected against our institutions by his ability to engage in corruption in our institutions.

Into the mix they have tried to throw everything and the kitchen sink as the election gets closer. I have no time for it. The facts speak for themselves. I have no respect for them. They shame their country, their profession in doing what they have done. .
I admit to nothing more or less than doing my job without fear or favour.

If as Mr. Smith seems to do, he hates this country and everything is wrong with the country, then you can simply leave. You had a citizenship of origin, you could go an occupy that citizenship again, if you wish. I invite you to do so. It is choice open to you.

Finally I wish to address those who support the Progressive Liberal Party and those who support the protection of the borders of The Bahamas. Stay strong. I am strong. I am neither fazed or bothered or persuaded by all of these idle mischaracterizations, protests and phony prayers. I have a job to do and I shall continue to do it for the Bahamian people. I shall do it all the way.

God bless the Commonwealth of the Bahamas.

I thank you Mr. Speaker.

End
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