The panel of Cabinet Ministers and other senior government officials listens attentively as Exuma residents raise their concerns. Sitting from left are Minister of National Security the Hon. Tommy Turnquest; Minister of Works and Transport the Hon. Earl Deveaux; Minister of Lands and Local Government the Hon. Sidney Collie; Member of Parliament for Exuma Anthony Moss and Senator Anthony Musgrove. (BIS Photo/Kristaan Ingraham)
GEORGE TOWN, Exuma – Illegal immigration topped the list of concerns of Exuma residents and Cabinet Ministers who attended a government organised town meeting at St. Andrews Community Centre last week.
After their arrival the Ministers and other senior government and law enforcement officials got a first hand look at Haitian squatting in the bushes of Exuma.
The contingent included: Minister of Tourism and Aviation the Hon. Neko Grant; Minister of Health and Social Development the Hon. Hubert Minnis; Minister of Lands and Local Government the Hon. Sidney Collie; Minister of Works and Transport the Hon. Earl Deveaux and Minister of National Security the Hon. Tommy Turnquest.
Mr. Deveaux told the residents attending the town meeting that what he saw in the bush alarmed him.
He said that although there is a need for labour in Exuma, the residents there were “accommodating” something that is a “serious detriment” to them.
“So my admonition to you is to let us work together to resolve this very serious problem,” Mr. Deveaux said.
“The problem I am talking about is not a Haitian problem, it is not a Jamaican problem, it is not a Peruvian problem, it is not a Cuban problem – the problem I am talking about is a Bahamian problem.”
Minister responsible for Immigration Mr. Turnquest noted that presently the HMBS Yellow Elder is docked at George Town dock and a number of the commando squadron are also on the island.
“They will do what they have to do to eradicate what is in the bush,” Mr. Turnquest said, “and we (the government) will also do what we have to do to stop illegals working.”
Responding to concerns about the small number of immigration officers in Exuma, the Minister told the residents that the officers were originally placed there for border protection.
“But what Exuma has become in terms of immigration has expanded beyond border protection and has expanded into the apprehension and repatriation exercises like we have in places like New Providence and Grand Bahama.”
While the Department is looking for a solution, Mr. Turnquest said residents must come forward if they have knowledge of illegal immigrants working for individuals or businesses.
He said it follows that someone must be hiring the illegal immigrants otherwise they would not be in Exuma.
“I want you to know that we are going to step up our apprehension exercises to rid ourselves of a large number of illegals and we will also begin to take action against employers.”
Mr. Turnquest spoke directly to the persons who pick up illegal workers early in the morning to take to job sites.
“Please do not do so,” he warned. “You are likely to be surprised and you do not want that to happen to you; so you cannot continue to do so.”
Mr. Turnquest added, “I want to make The Bahamas’ position clear in regard to immigrants. If there is a need for you as a business to have foreign labour and the request is reasonable and that the person is not a security threat to The Bahamas, we are likely to approve that request.
“But you are not to engage someone, as an individual or as a business that you do not have a work permit for.
He said, “It is against the law for illegal immigrants to be working here illegally; it is also illegal for an employer to hire someone illegally.”
Further the Minister explained, “If John Joseph has a work permit to work for Tommy Turnquest, Earl Deveaux cannot take John Joseph to work for him without permission. The Department of Immigration is prepared to accept an application jointly by Tommy Turnquest and Earl Deveaux for John Joseph if that is what you want.
“You can apply together but we do not expect persons to be hiring illegal immigrants.”