Maynard-Gibson: “Dare we ask whether The Bahamas is implementing one immigration policy for Haitians and another for every other nationality?…”

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Former Attorney General Allyson Maynard-Gibson

Dear Editor,

“God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning–the sixth day.” – Genesis 1:31

You and I enjoy democracy and everything that goes with it because there were women like Georgiana K. Symonette (my Grandmother), Mary  Ingraham, Bertha Isaacs, Eugenia Lockhart and hundreds of others who sacrificed so that the equality and dignity of women and black men, would be recognized by their enfranchisement. I remember bursting with pride and thinking, “I want to be like her”, the day I witnessed my Grandmother stand up to the campaign general of the most powerful man in the country – Stafford Sands.

Each of us has a story of the men and women in that generation who inspired us. How will the next generation feel about us? Are we prepared to recognize the complexity and the immense opportunity that exists post Hurricane Dorian? Are we prepared 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? Are we prepared for advocate for the greatness of The Bahamas and Bahamians – we have a record of rising to the occasion. As well as the ladies named above, think of Clarence Bain, Sidney Poitier, Roxy Roker, Aisha Bowe, Pauline Davis, Desiree Cox, Shaunae Miller, Stephen Gardiner and thousands of others of Bahamian descent – all over the world.

Shanty towns have existed in The Mudd and Pigeon Pea (and elsewhere) 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, etc. 

We should not be surprised by the size and magnitude of Hurricane Dorian. With eyes wide open, we continue to contribute to climate change knowing that an outcome is larger and more intense hurricanes. The government while speaking internationally about climate change, is making decisions to increase our carbon footprint and destroy the environment. 

Many of us continue to be bystanders. In so doing, have we condoned the actions of government- no matter the political party? Have the chickens come home to roost?

On the one hand, we ask ourselves, “how could it be fair to round up and deport people who have been for 10, 15, 20 years living and working amongst us”?  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? 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?

So what are we to do?

Here are some ideas, by no means exhaustive, that could be considered low hanging fruit:

  • 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. 
  • Civil society, especially academia, will create safe spaces to discuss this pressing national issue, rather than sweep it under the carpet – again. These civil exchanges will build consensus for immigration policy.
  • Government will 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, on 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.
  • The Department of Public Prosecutions will expedite the prosecution of those 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.

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

We are The Bahamas. Have we become bystanders? Have we delegated our ultimate power to make decisions about ourselves and future generations? Is civil society prepared to participate in governance? 

“There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.”

Julius Caesar Act 4, scene 3, 218–224

Yours sincerely,

Allyson Gibson

6thOctober, 2019