The Democratic National Alliance has always supported the idea of immigration reform in the Bahamas. For too long, there has been an undeniable need for real attention to be paid to the issue of illegal migration and the widespread implications and challenges it has created for our still developing nation.
On November 1, the government launched a set of new immigration policies which it hoped would bring order and clarity to the country’s immigration laws. Unfortunately though, the government’s efforts have been tainted by allegations of widespread abuse and mistreatment of immigrants. In fact, it appears that the government’s efforts to craft a firm and fair immigration policy has instead created a public relations and human rights nightmare for the Bahamas – a precarious position considering our economic dependence on Foreign Investment inflows.
The DNA’s position on immigration has not changed. The laws of the country MUST BE ENFORCED and those found to be acting in contravention of those laws must face the consequences. As a member of the global community however, The Bahamas, like all nations of the world must ensure that any and all efforts to address illegal migration issues do not cause more harm than good. The government must ensure that all of its immigration policies are carried out in a way that is both LEGAL and HUMANE.
In the days following the launch of the new initiatives, countless stories, photos and videos of young children being carted away by immigration officers, separated from their parents and even housed at the detention center have, and continue to paint the exercise in a negative light; drawing harsh criticisms from both inside and outside the country. In response, the government has attempted to bring further clarity to its intentions although so far, public commentary has done little to squelch the growing tensions. During a press conference on Sunday, Immigration Minister Fred Mitchell maintained that none the fundamental human rights of any individual have been violated. However, recent media reports tell a different story. Allegations of assault on individuals with legal rights to be in the country, and persons reportedly being illegally detained have caused even greater concern and now warrant a full investigation as has been promised by Minister Mitchell.
It must not stop there however, once completed, the public must be made aware of the outcome of these investigations and any officer found to be acting outside of the law must be dealt with appropriately.
Doing so will not only weed out the bad apples within the ranks, but will also serve as a strong indicator to both the local and international communities that the Bahamas does not tolerate law breakers – even if they wear a uniform. For years, as citizens and leaders of this country, we have chosen to abdicate responsibility for our collective role in allowing this matter to spiral out of control. For years, we have sold our collective birthright by allowing the sale of passports, and travel documents, through the bribery of immigration officials and through the exploitation of immigrants some of whom claim to have been overcharged for immigration documents, assaulted or otherwise generally exploited. THIS CANNOT CONTINUE!
As Bahamians it is important that we support the government and the immigration officers in their efforts. It must be noted however, that the use of undue and unnecessary force should not be condoned, or permitted. As has become evident by events on the world stage; abuses of power by any member of the armed forces could have dire consequences and could do irreparable damage to our already fragile communities. Added to the years of alleged systemic corruption which has existed within the department of immigration, such allegations of blatant human rights threaten to derail any real hope of bringing some resolution to this long standing problem.
Conversely, there have also been reports of immigration officers being attacked and wounded while attempting to execute their duties. In light of such reports there is clearly a need for patience. The public is reminded that these officers, as agents of the law have been constitutionally endowed with certain powers; these powers come with certain responsibilities which most officers take very seriously. We must all give them the opportunity to carry out their duties without fear.
Clearly this issue has become, and will likely remain a hot button issue. As the government prepares to expand its exercises to include the family islands as well, the Democratic National Alliance also calls for the government to temper its new found zeal for the execution of immigration policies with balance. This may require additional training for immigration officers to deal with the many shades of gray which now color the country’s immigration spectrum. It may also require a more effective education and public relations campaign which targets the country’s international partners in an effort to minimize the damage to the country’s reputation.
As a country, we can anticipate challenges to our development and growth. As a sovereign nation, we must however remain firm in our resolve to protect the rights and liberties of not just our citizenry but of all persons living within our borders. Doing so will require increased levels of transparency, equity and an overall commitment to nation building on the part of ALL Bahamians and Bahamians at heart.