Thousands Deported under New Bahamas Immigration Laws

Published 17 November 2014

Since the new immigration laws, police have been accused of performing late night raids and “round-ups” of Haitians for immediate deportation.

Advocacy groups – both national and international – came out over the weekend to denounce The Bahamas new immigration policies, which have been described as “unconstitutional” and have already targeted thousands of Haitians for deportations.

On Sunday, Fred Smith, president of the Grand Bahamas Human Rights Association (GBHRA), called the country’s government's new immigration policy illegal, immoral and “designed to strike fear into the hearts of an entire community.”

New immigration policies came into effect in the Bahamas on November 1, what the government said was a solution to a long-standing problem of illegal Haitians and Cubans entering the country. Often migrants from these countries stay in the Bahamas for an extended period, using it as a means to reach the United States.

Under the new laws, those who are not nationals of The Bahamas are required to carry their passports with them as well as evidence that they are able to legally live or work in the country. The government has also stopped accepting applications for first time applicants for resident or work permits in the country.

The reforms are also expected to adversely affect thousands of children. Under preexisting Bahamian law, the country does not give citizenship upon birth to those born in the country of foreign parents – these children can only apply for citizenship between the ages of 18 and 19 years old.

The new laws have resulted in daily immigration checks, including late night raids on immigrant communities, and “round-ups” of groups of Haitians for immediate deportation.

According to Smith, by targeting whole communities, the government has already mistakenly deported many who live there legally.

Smith, one of the leading attorneys in the Bahamas, also pointed out that Haitians, both legal and illegal, have the same constitutional rights as everyone else while in the country.

These include: the right to bail and an attorney if detained in connection with an alleged criminal offense; the right to be treated as innocent until proven guilty; and the right to a proper trial with punishment, in this case deportation, only following upon conviction.

“Immigration officers cannot act as judge, jury and executioner,” Smith said.

The government has vehemently denied any wrong doing. Addressing the concern of immigration “round-ups,” Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration, Frederick Mitchell, said “there is no such creature” and that the Department of Immigration has “done as it always has done, immigration checks on a daily basis.”

Last week, advocacy groups in Florida also called for a mass boycott of the Bahamas because of the government's new approach to immigration – what could severely impact the cluster of Caribbean islands whose economy relies almost exclusively on tourism.

Speaking at a press conference in Little Haiti, Haitian born Democrat and Florida State Representative, Daphne Campbell, said, “I'm asking all, all cruises and all tourists, to make sure every industry boycotts the Bahamas to end discrimination against Haitian children.”

In a statement on Friday, Mitchell called Campbell's statements foolish and said the ministry will put the appropriate measures into place to protect the “sovereign integrity” of The Bahamas.