Our Haitian family
By JOHN CAREY
EYES WIDE SHUT
Nassau, The Bahamas
The Bahamas has a long history with Haiti. People like Stephen Dillet, who was born in Haiti, contributed to the development of the Bahamas on a national level. Haiti has been the pioneer for all people of color in this region as the first country to achieve independence in 1804.
Yet with all that it has contributed to the region, we seem to only know Haiti for its large numbers of illegal immigrants who make the treacherous journey to our islands. There needs to be a balance between having our borders secure while having legal migration from Haiti.
We have been playing with the idea of immigration reform for many years but have not addressed it in a satisfactory manner. We need to regularize Haitians who are here who have a legitimate claim to citizenship and residency. We must find a rational solution for all persons born in the Bahamas and we must treat all persons here humanely and with dignity.
The current administration’s policy on forging stronger economic ties with Haiti is an excellent approach to working towards a permanent solution for the illegal immigration problem. Many Bahamians would have a more open view of Haiti if they visited and saw the opportunity for business, entrepreneurship and the humanity of people who are all descendants from Africa, Europe or Asia – just as Bahamians are.
Haitians in The Bahamas have been oppressed for far too long. Those who are legally here face discrimination and Bahamians of Haitian descent often complain about how insensitive many in this country are toward them. I am not suggesting that we have a welcoming committee to wave through illegal migrants. I am saying that we must fix the immigration issue and be honest with ourselves if we expect our country to move forward and develop.
We have had many amnesty periods in our history with regard to illegal Haitian immigrants. As a continuation of what has been done before, why not do another amnesty period of 60 days where all illegal immigrants who have been in the Bahamas for 20 years or more and can prove that they have been here for that minimum time period, are put on a path to citizenship by being given permanent residency with the right to work?
Let’s face the reality: persons in that category are not going anywhere except to the United States of America if they can. However, by giving them residency, we can get more participation from those persons in our economy and regularize thousands of people who are here and who remain undocumented.
If we regularize and grant residency to those who have been here for 20 years or more, then we need to get more aggressive in enforcement of immigration laws. We must ensure that those who have not been here for the minimum 20 years are identified, processed and – unless they face the possibility of political persecution or other breaches of human rights – deported to their countries of origin.
As a result of the granting of residency to those who have been here for 20 years or more, their spouses and children could also be entitled to residency by virtue of marriage and/or being part of the immediate family. They may also qualify for residency on their own merit having been here for 20 years or more.
The policy that I am suggesting could apply to all illegal immigrants and therefore not be unique to one nationality because there are many other nationalities that are illegally present in the Bahamas. The Haitian population represents the largest block from one country.
The enforcement of our immigration law is critical to our national growth and development. The shanty towns must be demolished and those who do not qualify to be in this country must be processed to ensure the Bahamian taxpayer is not continuously stretched to the financial limit. This vexing immigration problem affects our educational system, healthcare system and other national resources.
The schools may be loaded with children who are illegal immigrants. The hospitals and clinics may be overburdened attending to the care of illegal immigrants and our other national resources are expended to attempt to manage this problem.
It should be noted that we are not the only country with an illegal immigration problem. Our closest neighbor, the United States of American, has millions of undocumented illegal immigrants and it is also a great strain and challenge for them to handle. I am not sure if the Republic of Cuba has a large illegal immigrant problem given their proximity to us.
If we address the illegal immigration problem correctly, our country can be better off as a result because there are thousands of persons here who want to contribute to our development and would if they were welcomed as residents and new citizens of the Bahamas. We cannot continue to ignore the ‘elephant in the room’ and hope that it will go away and things will get better. By default, there has been an underground society and economy that exists and will continue to thrive unless we have a bold and assertive paradigm shift to ensure that there is only one Bahamas. This one Bahamas includes all who are lawful residents and citizens whether by birth, or by a going through a process to become one of us.
How hypocritical of any Bahamian to want to keep a group of people in bondage. Those of you who use illegal immigrants to work for you, and/or who facilitate illegal immigration are traitors.
I am hopeful that the government will work to implement a few of these ideas to ensure that our illegal immigration problem is solved. With the addition of new boats to assist the Defence Force, we should have a higher detection rate and be able to reduce the number of illegal immigrants who get into the Bahamas. So while we work to eradicate illegal immigration let’s not discriminate against our Haitian family who are here to stay and a part of us.
• John Carey served as a member of parliament from 2002 to 2007.
July 04, 2014