At the 68th General Assembly of the United Nations, the prime minister spoke of illegal immigration as a matter of the “highest national priority.” Indeed, Bahamians can agree with the prime minister that “our country simply does not have the financial resources and infrastructural capacity, much less the psychological stamina, to endure the dilemma indefinitely.”
But successive governments have yet to adequately address the proliferation of undocumented migrants living in The Bahamas. These migrants, mostly of Haitian descent, live in the periphery of society unable to integrate; a two-tier population demographic has emerged that is unsustainable. Generations of stateless persons perpetuate a ballooning parallel population that demands immediate attention.
Ignorance no longer suffices; the government must recognize and remedy the unethical generational passage of being stateless. These stateless persons devour public resources such as schools, public hospitals and our prison system without an adequate pathway to citizenship to provide full wage contributions to the public treasury.
According to the 2010 Census, of the non-Bahamians who make up 17.3 percent of the Bahamian population, the majority or 64.4 percent are from Haiti. Moreover, the International Organization for Migration estimates that between 20,000 and 50,000 undocumented Haitians are living in The Bahamas. Such vast numbers do not support the claim that The Bahamas merely serves as a transshipment point. The Bahamas is a gateway for a new beginning either here or somewhere else.
A rescued Haitian migrant from the recently capsized sloop mentioned specifically seeking out The Bahamas as a place with family. Katelee Joseph said through a translator, “I have plenty family who live in The Bahamas, you know.”
Even if The Bahamas eliminated human smuggling operations, an impossible task, the country must address the current population of undocumented migrants. The minister of foreign affairs would do well to examine the political fallout and international admonition of a recent court decision in the Dominican Republic. A decision by the Constitutional Court of the Dominican Republic would deny citizenship to anyone born to parents not legally residing retroactive to 1929, seemingly targeting those of Haitian descent.
Human rights advocates claim that roughly 200,000 persons could lose their citizenship. Last Tuesday, CARICOM issued a statement that condemned the court decision and suspended consideration for the Dominican Republic’s request for full membership. Clearly, there exists alternative policy considerations that would placate human rights advocates and resolve the vexing condition of a stateless person.
In The Bahamas, the current pathway to citizenship is muddled by arbitrary guidelines behind a ministry that is anything but transparent. Applications linger for years, if processed at all, further antagonizing relations between Bahamians and would-be naturalized persons. Furthermore, the continuation of gender inequality in The Bahamas’ constitution is an outrage and expels would-be citizens based on the nationality of the father.
Why is The Bahamas afraid to even attempt to integrate a growing peripheral population? Such exclusivity only breeds contempt fueled by a false complacency to keep the status quo. The Bahamas cannot ignore immigration reform; we can combat human smuggling with international partners but addressing the undocumented migrants here is a problem of our own making.
eeroses,, posted on: Monday, December 30, 2013 7:36 PM
The FNM Government said they had cleared up the back log of cases of persons waiting for citizen ship, so where is this large number of persons you are writing about?, Well I suppose you are paid to write something, so write you do, even if it makes no sense.