Sunday, July 10, 2011

Bahamas: illegal immigration problem that has grown too large for such a small country

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you

tribune242 editorial

Nassau, Bahamas

ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION has become an emotional problem -- in fact it has become a Haitian problem.

"They cluttering up my road; they too biggety; they think they own the place; the women breed too many children; they going to take us over... we got to get rid of them," is the oft heard Bahamian bleat.

To hear many Bahamians talk one would think they are talking of eradicating a swarm of locusts, not human beings with the same hopes and dreams as the rest of us. As a matter of fact these people expect little, but they too have hopes for a better future for their children. They are too humble to expect much, but to be able to put a roof over the heads of their families and provide them a meal a day, no matter how meagre, can bring a smile to their faces.

We always hear about Haitians, but the problem is far wider and more problematic than that. There is also a problem with other undocumented immigrants -- Jamaicans for example -- who are quietly imbedded in our society. And so, it is not only a Haitian problem, it's an illegal immigration problem that has grown too large for such a small country.

Each government has expended much effort and expense on rounding them up and returning them to Haiti. In the early days it was handled in a most inhumane way. They were hunted in the bush by dogs; they were yanked from their homes at the crack of dawn and their empty homes left to the thieving paws of marauding Bahamians. Families were broken up, no compassion was shown. The inhumanity was so severe during an earlier period that many of them fled in rickety boats headed for the US. However, many drowned in the Gulf. We recall writing at the time how we could not understand how many government ministers of that era could sleep at night with such human tragedy on their doorsteps. But sleep they did as the raids grew even more cruel, with many callous Bahamians cheering them on. We often wondered if these Bahamians ever thought of these poor people as they dressed up in their Sunday finery, clutching their Bibles as they made their fashion parade to church.

And then we noticed that the absence of the Haitians was starting to show. Many beautiful gardens throughout the island were growing up in weeds -- no Bahamians wanted to do Haitian work. And so, obviously, these Haitians had provided a service that Bahamians felt was too demeaning for them. Haitians were obviously needed to fill the gap. Added to which many of them have a work ethic that many Bahamians are yet to grasp. The illegal question has to be debated humanely. For example, what should be the policy when a Bahamian man goes to Jamaica, marries a Jamaican woman and brings her to Nassau. Shortly afterwards children who she had in a previous relationship want to visit their step dad. They come, they go to school and they stay. What is their position or what should it be? Already the Immigration Department has issued about 130 spousal permits for Jamaican wives.

Our suggestion is that there should be a period of amnesty during which time all undocumented immigrants could register. Those who have jobs are obviously needed, and should be documented. Those who have no steady means of employment, should be individually interviewed and, depending on their situation, a decision should be made about their future.

But a panel of upstanding Bahamians - pastors among them - should discuss the matter. Meetings should be held in each of the constituencies to discover the impact the immigrants are having in each particular area, and suggestions from residents of how they think those problems should be resolved.

After many meetings and much debate the government should prepare a White Paper outlining future policy.

The immigrants will then know what is required of them. Immigration officers also will know what is expected of them and the penalties for operating a side-door racket.

This is a thorny subject that must be aired and dealt with humanely if there is to be peace in this country. And to ensure that peace, ways and means must be found to integrate these immigrants into our society so that their succeeding generations truly will be Bahamian.

As a matter of fact over the years many immigrants -- including Haitians -- have been successfully integrated into our society. One must never forget that the first black Bahamian to sit in our parliament was of Haitian heritage.

Also we must never forget that as the world turns misfortune could set our own grandchildren and great grandchildren adrift on the open seas looking for a safe haven to cast anchor. Hopefully they will be treated with the same compassion that these helpless ones are now seeking from us.
And in your deliberations never forget Matthew 7:12 - the Golden Rule:

"All things therefore whatsoever you would that men should do to you, do you also to them. For this is the law and the prophets."

July 08, 2011

tribune242 editorial