18 January 2017
On Immigration Matters
Check against delivery
I wish to address the House on Immigration matters that are now in the public domain.
I wish to lay on the table the statistics for repatriations, arrests and releases for the years 2015 and 2016.
They are broken down by nationality.
The general categories are in 2015- 4,957 people were arrested; 3379 were repatriated; 571 were released. Important to note that amongst those who were released are many who owed work permit fees.
Compare and contrast the figures from 2015 to those of 2016: 7357 people were arrested; 6869 were repatriated; 488 people were released.
The major categories were Cubans and Haitians.
I give these figures for comparison year to year—2015 as compared to 2016: Cubans 1287 in 2016 repatriated compared to 153 in 2015
Haitians 2015 – 3,183 and 2016- 5,241
You will see that there is a substantial jump in the figures of Cubans. We believe that this was largely driven by Cubans anticipating the end of the so called wet foot/dry foot policy.
I wish to record the statement released by the government on the announcement by the United States government on the end of that policy which gave Cubans who landed in the United States a fast track to Permanent Residence.
The officials here have said there have not been any interdictions of Cubans since that policy was announced. We continue to watch the situation.
The statement read as follows:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
12th January 2017
FROM THE MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS & IMMIGRATION
ON US WET FOOT / DRY FOOT POLICY COMING TO AN END
The United States government through its Charge in The Bahamas Lisa Johnson communicated to the Foreign Minister Fred Mitchell this afternoon that with immediate effect, the so called “wet foot / dry foot” immigration policy of the United States with regard to Cuban nationals landing in the United States will come to an end.
The United States told the Foreign Minister that the decision comes following the renewal of diplomatic relations between the two countries the United States and Cuba.
The effect of the policy is that Cuban nationals will now be treated like any other foreign nationals landing in the United States illegally. They will be returned following the appropriate screening to determine whether they qualify for refugee status.
The Bahamas Government welcomes this decision, particularly as it is believed that this policy was believed to be driving the rise in Cuban landings in The Bahamas.
The Government is mindful however that the decision is taken just as the Political Administration in the United States is about to change. The Government waits to see whether the policy will continue beyond the current administration before the Government can determine what the policy’s full effects are.
I wish also to address various records that have been circulating by e mail and social media about the actions of the Immigration Department in Grand Bahama.
In a meeting of the Coral Beach condominium association, Fred Smith Q. C said the following inter alia:
“It is inappropriate the government to get involved in the private financial or private disputes in a condominium association like this. Why is Fred Mitchell the Minister of Bahamas Immigration getting involved in a dispute that exists between condominium owners? Why is he picking on Bruno Rufa or Sandra or Nancy or others? Make no mistake when the new board decides to enforce a lien against some Bahamian who refuses to pay the maintenance you will be will the next one that the immigration is going to try and deport. And that’s why I understand…you see they are winning. Those who are seeking to undermine the effectiveness that the board of directors has been able to achieve over these years are now winning. Because they now think and they do because they got a new board and the new board may be a little naïve and this is not a criticism a little naïve or a little innocent and just doesn’t know the way of these people. It is a very difficult environment to live in. Most of you… you’re all white for the most part… and it’s a big problem for the Black Bahamians that you’re down here. Believe it or not they want your money, they want you to spend it but they don’t like you alright. A lot of them don’t. The fact is The Bahamas is a very racist a very xenophobic, a nationally insecure and a very hateful place to foreigners. So you can’t just bury your head in the sand.”
The record states that there were 65 people at that meeting. Most of them were non nationals it appears.
As this matter is now circulating in the public domain this must be addressed.
First, Mr. Smith is incorrect and disingenuous when he says that Fred Mitchell, this Minister, is picking on anyone. That is a falsehood.
The record shows that Bruno Rufa about whom he speaks, a Canadian citizen, is now before the criminal courts of The Bahamas on a charge of working in The Bahamas without a work permit. That is an offence in law.
Prior to my becoming a Minister, Mr. Rufa was removed from the Bahamas under procedures that appear to have been accepted then but were challenged when those procedures were used by the Department to do so when I became minister. There are several complaints on file about his conduct.
Secondly, for the purposes of the condominium association owners and all foreign nationals, residents and permanent resident, The Bahamas government makes decisions on permanent residence on a quasi judicial basis. There is the rule of law in The Bahamas and no one’s rights are infringed upon. When someone violates the laws and procedures of The Bahamas, then the Department of Immigration acts. Such an individual against whom a decision is made has a right in law to review their case and the Government acts according to law.
The Bahamas government is not involved in any dispute with the Coral Beach Condominium Association.
A complete record will show that this is the case of Bruno Rufa. Mr. Rufa has availed himself of the Courts of The Bahamas. And the records show that Mr. Smith has been paid handsomely for his work, with the minutes of the meeting’s record showing that some 270,000 dollars in fees have been collected by him and his firm for work for the association; some 1 million dollars in outstanding fees are unbilled.
This is the point that I have made as Minister for Immigration: it is obvious that this is a valuable country that we have, when people are willing to spend that kind of money to stay here, even in the face of alleged infringements of the law.
There are several cases which are still before the courts involving the subject person.
We have followed the law at all times.
But it is the last more general remark of which the international audience must be disabused . Mr. Smith, Q C, who is himself a naturalized citizen of The Bahamas, and was given shelter in this country, has indicated the following and I quote:
“The fact is The Bahamas is a very racist, a very xenophobic, a nationally insecure and a very hateful place to foreigners.”
This is absolutely untrue. This is a statement that comes from someone who presents himself as a human rights activist. He makes his living and a livelihood in The Bahamas. This is the equivalent of a fisherman calling his own fish stink.
Given the wide circulation of the documents, no immigration minister can allow this comment to stand unchallenged, particularly as it was delivered in the face of 65 foreign people who live in The Bahamas and are valued investors here. It is hateful. It is deceitful. This is ungrateful. It is dishonest. It is unpatriotic.
All fun and jokes aside Mr. Speaker, as a public policy maker, as a Member of Parliament, as a Minister of the government. I am sworn to defend The Bahamas and its constitution and its people without fear or favour. I do not appreciate in the least this attempt to smear me and to smear the government and the wider Bahamian people, no matter how it is dressed up.
We are a blessed people, a stable democracy. Our first obligation is to The Bahamas.
I have had occasion before to point out what Section 18 of the Immigration Act empowers the Minister to do when someone who is in The Bahamas acts incompatibly with the status that has been bestowed upon them.
I have exercised that right once already and will not hesitate to do so again where the law allows and circumstances warrant.
Mr. Smith should be given an opportunity to resile from this vile and hateful, derogatory and defamatory language.
If not, then the professional body of which he is a part ought to examine carefully the record of his statements with regard to this matter and see whether this is appropriate conduct for one such as this.
I thank you Mr. Speaker.