Landlords will no longer be allowed to rent to undocumented persons…

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Minister Fred Mitchell and Parliamentary Secretary Cleola Hamilton.

Nassau, Bahamas – Immigration Amendment Bill 2015 Intervention by Fred Mitchell, MP,  Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration delivered in the House of Assembly on March 11th, 2015:

Reverend Dr. Philip Rahming of Fox Hill penned these words which young children say every morning in school: “I pledge my allegiance to the flag of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas, one people united in love and service.”

I make that pledge at the start of his intervention because this is about the Bahamas, its identity, its security and its integrity.And by the way today I pledge to excel.

Mr. Speaker: I pledge my allegiance to the flag of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas — one people united in love and service.

Mr. Speaker, this is not North Korea. This is the Commonwealth of The Bahamas, an open democratic transparent society

There is nothing as intellectually compelling and interesting to me than the confluence of rational thought and Christian faith in one package. I recall this prayer from the Rev. Malcolm Boyd from his book talking-with-God prayers from his 1965 best-selling book, “Are You Running With Me, Jesus?”

The prayer goes like this:

“It’s morning, Jesus. I’ve got to move fast — get into the bathroom, wash up, grab a bite to eat, and run some more. Where am I running? You know these things I can’t understand. It’s not that I need to have you tell me. What counts most is just that somebody knows, and it’s you. That helps a lot. So I’ll follow along, O.K.? But lead, Lord. Now I’ve got to run. Are you running with me, Jesus?”

Amen.

Today’s policy decisions are impatient of debate.

Malcolm Gladwell in his book Blink made the case that in the choices of decision making between acting on instinct or deliberation as the two alternatives, the outcomes are broadly the same and if anything the balance lies in favor of acting on instinct. If there is anything that forty years of work in public policy in this country has taught me is that the longer you take to roll something out the more likely it is to get derailed. This is a society in my view that in some things you have to present it with a fait accompli. Often times results have to be imposed from the outside as in the OECD strictures which forced changes in the way we do banking business here.

There are many human beings in this country that are waiting on this bill to get their lives in order.

Immigration is a blunt instrument.It is a policing action. At the same time it requires sensitivity and humanity. This country is often at extremes on this issue.The government, myself as the adjudicating authority has to be strict but measured; stern but humane.

Today is the time to act.We are never going to get it perfectly right.We have to start.Many people forget that this policy started out last year when day after day one hundred at a time were arriving from the south of us, swamping our country and its resources.The Bahamian people were fed up and the government had to act.

This is about one thing making our country secure.Securing the borders Putting Bahamians first.

We need to act with dispatch and get this over with.It is simple clear and uncomplicated.

Everyone in the country must be documented to be here. Nothing more or less.

That means every man woman and child.

I explained why I took the attitude I did and will not blink

I talked about people being falsely portrayed as victims by people who have a political agenda and I battled those folks with their political agenda.

I want to make it plain. I’m not Loftus Roker. He is a good man in his time but I am not him and I am not trying to do what he did.

I cannot compare

But as I said in the early stages of this, we would have made a serious mistake of getting soft and wobbly and if we had blinked. We are successful because we did not blink.

There was an attack in my personal reputation, one critic accusing me of presiding over a gas chamber operation in The Bahamas.Another on his radio programme told Haitians that should not vote for the PLP because of the new policy.All a cacophony of lies innuendos and hatched up nonsense fed by enemies both at home and abroad to derail the policy that everyone should be documented to be in this country.

This legislation makes it better for all concerned . For the first time some people will get a status which they could get before: open a bank account and go to school. Yet the irony is that the people who these critics say they want to help have been hurt y the opposition of these same critics.

Louby Georges post on social media: wrote in Kreyol

To Haitian children do not vote PLP and start a revolution.

But on the other hand were scores of letters and phone calls, and most importantly the National General Council of the Progressive Liberal Party for its full, constant and unwavering support for which I thank them. But I wish to make it clear.This is not about me.This is a policy of the government of the Bahamas; the government of the Progressive Liberal Party; the government of the Right Honourable Member from Centreville.We have made the tough decision for Immigration reform.We pledged to work for Bahamians first as this bill and these policies do just that.

It is my honour to move this bill the Immigration Amendment Bill 2015 and I so move.

In doing so, I wish to put this matter in context and explain some of the provisions of the bill.

I hope the bill has the support of the House.

This is a reforming statute.This is simply building on the 1967 Immigration Act which itself was a compendium of a number of public policy efforts dating back to the 19th century to deal with immigration in The Bahamas.

The measures proposed are not complicated.They are simple.They are not sinister.They are straightforward.

This is about one thing and one thing only: ensuring that everyone in The Bahamas has some document which shows that they have the right to live and work in The Bahamas.

All this other stuff about targeting national groups and the allegations of abusing one group or the next did not arise when this legislation was designed and have been invented in the vivid imagination of the opponents of these simple measures.With respect, those are separate issues from this bill and what it seeks to do.

We have a long and complex history on immigration and of immigration.It is not my role or business to revisit any of that today.What I know is that in 1973 we got a constitution which defines citizens of The Bahamas in a particular way.The founding fathers of this country determined what citizenship would be.We have not changed that by law.The result is those who do not fall within that category are not Bahamians in a legal sense. There are other senses in which you can be Bahamian.If you wish to find out that I did a lecture in 2004 on What It Means To be Bahamian? However, I have said and I say again: I am not the minister of history or social commentary.I am the Minister for Immigration with a quasi judicial function to carry out.I do so without fear or favour.

My position is that the Immigration Board has the absolute right to say who or who cannot land in The Bahamas and who should be excluded from The Bahamas.Always of course this is subject to law.However, the law gives the Board that right.

The question then is what status should be granted to those who are not Bahamians in the legal sense to live here lawfully.

In particular, there is a class of persons who have the right at their 18th birthday and before their 19th birthday to apply to be registered as a citizen of The Bahamas.This is that category of person who is born to non Bahamian parents.

The other category of concern is the children of Bahamians who are citizens of The Bahamas by virtue of Article 3(2) of the Constitution.For convenience I will call this the Sidney Poitier example.My brother Matthew falls in this category.He got his citizenship from his father who was Bahamian by birth but my brother was born in the US and so cannot pass his citizenship down to his children if they were not born in The Bahamas.If they were born overseas they would have to be registered as citizens of The Bahamas.

Some people waited until they were adults to apply and found themselves in the invidious position of having to renounce their citizenship of origin and so chose instead to apply for Permanent Residence with the right to work.The only problem is under the present law and regulations that costs 10,000 dollars.

So this bill will solve that problem for them by doing two things: creating the status of a resident Belonger for them or allowing them to obtain Permanent residence at a price of 250 dollars.

In amending the law, we are also conscious of the high level of illegal migration.Since the new administrative measures were introduced on 1st November there has been a dramatic decrease in the number of boats being interdicted at sea.No one wants to take credit for that but I merely point out that fact.

The policy has been the most popular policy of this government since it came to power in 2012.The public opinion measures say that there is an 85 per cent support in the general population for the measures announced.This policy obtained the support of the three political parties in the country, something not even the amendments for the rights of women was able to accomplish.This therefore is a highly popular policy and also highly charged.

The policy is for the greater good of our country.

A number of factors can account for the apparent decrease in the numbers that: the weather, the work of the Royal Bahamas Defence Force and their new boats and the work of the Department of Immigration.

Let me start out then by thanking all of those agencies including the Royal Bahamas Police Force, the Department of Social Services and the Ministry of Education for all their support and efforts during this period.

As the poet says though we have miles to go before we sleep.

The bill has 19 provisions:

I will explain just a few:

Clause 4 allows for the sanctions of the act to applyacross the board to all persons.

Clause 5 creates an immigration reserve.This will be patterned after the Police Reserve.It will allow volunteers to help the regular immigration department do its work.I have spoken before about the lack of manpower.

Clause 6 merely repeats what is in the existing statute and places it in a different section of the substantive act.

Clause 7 allows for the grant of permanent residence notwithstanding a death of the spouse and clause 8 allows in certain circumstances people who are divorced or separated continue to have status in The Bahamas particularly where there are children of the marriage.

Clause 9 adds a new section for revocation of permanent residence consistent with the changes to the act so that if you remarry you may lose your permanent residence obtained by virtue of marriage to a Bahamian and you are a divorced or separated spouse.

Clause 10 of the bill amends Section 19 to say that you must have some valid documentation if you are embarking on a journey outside The Bahamas.

Clause 11 of the Bill amends section 29 of the act to increase the penalty for working without a work permit to 10,000 dollars or five years

Clause 12 amend Section 30 of the act to allow for spousal permit to be valid notwithstanding the death or divorce or separation from the spouse and to allow for another status after its expiry.

Clause 13 invents what is called a Resident Belonger’s Permit and is available in three instances:

The children of non Bahamians born in The Bahamas who reside in The Bahamas (a)

The children of a Bahamian woman born to a foreign man outside The Bahamas (b)

The children of a Bahamian father virtue of Article 3 (2) of the constitution or Article 8 of the Constitution.

Clauses 14 and 15 are tidying up provisions.

Clause 16 Creates a discretion for the Minister to formulate a sector policy detailing the manner of and criteria for the exercise of the Minister’s discretion under the act.

This is meant to provide a more transparent process as to the circumstances under which various permits under the act are granted.

It also creates the offence of fraudulent marriages which is meant to deal with the rising number of complaints about marriages of convenience.

Clause 17 Creates the legal basis for regulations for the detention centre.

I will come back to the Detention Centre.

Clause 18 is a tidying up exercise which makes the penalty applicable for Bahamians and Permanent Residents for assisting in an illegal landing

Clause 19 creates a new offence of Harbouring an illegal person and makes the penalty 10,000 dollars or five years.

Let me share with you

Sent:Monday, March 9, 2015 6:10 PM
Subject:Apprehension of Illegal Migrants

Please be advised that the Royal Bahamas Defence Force patrol craft, P 129, apprehended 9 foreign nationals including 1 Bahamian, 1 Jamaican, 6 Dominicans, and 1 Lithuanian around 10 a.m. this morning off West End, Grand Bahama aboard an 18-foot vessel.

The Defence Force vessel was alerted by Operation Bahamas, Turks and Caicos (OPBAT) officials to a vessel in distress off West End. The 9 occupants were found aboard the vessel by Defence Force marines and subsequently taken into custody.

The apprehended persons were handed over to Police and Immigration authorities in West End for further investigation and processing. The Bahamian national is expected to be charged with human smuggling.

Earlier on Sunday morning, the Defence Force vessel, P 48, assisted 4 crewmembers aboard a 100-foot Haitian freighter that ran aground near Lynard Cay, southeast of Marsh Harbour, Abaco around 8 a.m. that morning. No one was hurt during the incident and the vessel was refloated without further incident.

Respectfully,

This shows the clear reason why this policy is necessary.

We have three countries that surround us and we have an obligation to our neighbours to not allow our territory to be used for smuggling people to those countries.

I want to talk about the Detention Centre.This is a vexing issue.The Detention Centre is much maligned and I will not add to it save and except to say that the detention centre continues to suffer from being under resourced and poorly managed.

I do not join those who say these horrible things about the detention centre without knowing firsthand what the issues are. The Government has a report which made recommendations on its management and the report and the need for urgent repair and the government is fully aware of all that is required to get it fixed.

Children with mothers are no longer housed at the Detention centre.

Food is prepared by the Department of Social Services. I am advised that the food is nutritious but the issue is the type of food which is not an acceptable diet for some detainees. There is no violation of the religious rights of detainees in this regard as far as I am aware.

I wish to report that there are now three reported cases of chicken pox in the facility. There is a need for a proper isolation facility. One person with chicken pox I am advised has already been repatriated but two others are now I am advised in isolation.The repatriation flights that should have gone are now scheduled for tomorrow which will relieve the numbers in the facility.The Public Health Department is au fait with the details and are managing the protocols to deal with it. I am advised that when the first case occurred there was a vaccination effort to present the disease from spreading. The Parliamentary Secretary will monitor the process and report to me and I to this house as events unfold.

I have constantly said that the answer to the Detention centre’s woes in part is to move people out of that facility in a timely basis.Sometimes I wonder if we have robbed the church or whether we are intent of being the Keystone Cops with regard to what is necessary to maintain that facility.It is a work in progress and we will continue to do the best we can with the resources which we have available to us.

The government of the Bahamas does not condone or treat by policy anyone in an inhumane fashion.

I have offered to certain responsible non governmental agencies the right to enter the facilities at will and to work with those agencies to make any immediate improvements to that facility. This includes the Opposition’s spokesman on Foreign Affairs.What I object to is the doctrine of “gotcha”.Again I say this is not North Korea, this is the Commonwealth of The Bahamas.

I mentioned earlier the ire of some people who are against the policy because of their ancestry talking about voting against the PLP because of the policy.

But here is what came from the other side of the debate. This letter came to me the day after the legislation as introduced in Parliament for the Belonger’s permit:

2nd March

Dear Minister,

As I made the time to congratulate you when I thought you were on a path to finally address and stem the encroachment of illegal immigrants – Haitians in particular – into this country, I must convey my absolute disappointment and dismay at the recent communication regarding the Belonger’s Permit.

Anson Ally, Jetta Baptiste, Louby Georges and their leader Fred Smith are so gleeful that they can barely contain themselves.

Bahamas Pundit is right – for reasons known only to yourself and your party, you seek to open the floodgates to people who will overrun and destroy the Bahamas as we know it.

If the Americans have shared with me the negative consequences for our country, they have certainly shared the same with you and others in your party.

You have chosen to overnight devalue the Bahamian passport.

Hubert Ingraham also chose to dabble with Haitianizing the electorate with mass swearing in sessions prior to the last election.

Thousands of persons who had never voted PLP voted en masse in protest and his newly minted citizens could not save them.

Those of us who despise the trivialization of our citizenship will not take this lightly.We could not never support giving this nation to another people.

The last Charge d’Affairs at the US Embassy made it clear to me that the US never encouraged giving citizenship to children of illegal immigrants born here.

They know why.

First of all this does nothing about the issue of citizenship.So that is absolutely wrong.Secondly, the fact is that now all of these remedies are available in law to do what we wish with the immigration act so there is no new remedy or change in policy.This is only about facilitating legal order migration.It is my wish that all people should remain calm and rational in this debate.

This policy then is a balancing act. What people don’t know is the number of people who we have to deal with at the executive level who disrespect our laws and institutions.They are able to get high priced lawyers and seek to flout the law and try to threaten mayhem on immigration officials.Bahamians continue to complain aboutthese people who abuse them on jobs, coming in under the guise of being investors or tourists and then staying here and boasting about how they can flout the laws.

The law on gainful employment is broadly defined which means in essence any activity whether for cash or kind. That means that if you are a director of a condominium association you cannot go and work at the facility without a work permit. Neither can foreign employers come and work here then bad mouth the people of the country and expect to survive here.

I am asking Bahamians to be vigilant about this.Only we can correct our country’s woes and protect our country.These people who abuse our country if found out will be excluded from the country.

I am satisfied that we have done our best here with this matter.I commend the bill to the House.

Our national security demands this bill.I offer it only in that vein.If you are not documented to be in The Bahamas you will be sent back home so get your houses in order please.

Remind the folks in Abaco that the operations are days away.

This is a thankless job. But there it is.

No one is ever satisfied it seems but I am satisfied that you cannot satisfy everyone and never will satisfy everyone.Public policy is about the best outcome for the greater good.You do your best and move on.I have no sleepless nights about it.I ask for the support of the House but we have had enough debate and talking about this.This society has bigger fish to fry.

The eyes of the world are upon us. We have nothing to hide but this is our business.

So I end where I began:

Fr. Daniel Boyd said this prayer:

“It’s morning, Jesus. I’ve got to move fast — get into the bathroom, wash up, grab a bite to eat, and run some more. Where am I running? You know these things I can’t understand. It’s not that I need to have you tell me. What counts most is just that somebody knows, and it’s you. That helps a lot. So I’ll follow along, O.K.? But lead, Lord. Now I’ve got to run. Are you running with me, Jesus?”

As for me and my House:

I pledge my allegiance to the flag of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas — one people united in love and service.

I so move.