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2005-08-29 15:02:06

Immigration Reform Urged

The government should present the people of The Bahamas with an action plan within 45 days outlining how it is addressing the illegal immigration problem.

Civil Society Bahamas will today formally release a report calling on the government to get tough on illegal immigration before the problem develops into an explosive situation.

The group – which is officially recognized by the government and is in the process of registering with the Organization of American States – is calling on the authorities to deal decisively with persons and companies who hire illegal immigrants; stop the illegal use of Crown Land by removing all shanty towns, and refuse to provide utilities to their illegal structures.

The government is being urged to, "Institute a policy of zero tolerance on illegal immigrants by deporting all immigrants and refusing work permits unless it has been established that no Bahamians are available to fill job vacancies."

While such action represents commitments government officials have said is taking place already, the non-governmental group says it is obvious that a more serious approach must be taken to dealing with a problem that has plagued the country for decades.

The actual recommendations, which have already been forwarded to Prime Minister Perry Christie and Immigration Minister Vincent Peet, were compiled at a fiery town meeting on July 13 when several panelists addressed the issue of illegal immigration.

Those panelists included former Minister of Immigration A. Loftus Roker, attorney Maurice Glinton; former politician and social activist, Dr. Elwood Donaldson; Rev. Dr. C. B. Moss; and Senator Tommy Turnquest.

Minister Peet was also on that panel.

The Civil Society report asks the government to put a moratorium on repatriation and agree to a period for illegal immigrants to come forward and be registered.

"At this stage in our development, the judiciary should be fully Bahamianized; in particular the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal," the report adds.

It also says the government should present the people of The Bahamas with an action plan within 45 days outlining how it is addressing the illegal immigration problem.

At the end of the moratorium period, the report asks the government to aim to repatriate all illegal immigrants within six months, but it does not address the costs factors such an initiative would entail.

Where illegal immigrants have children born in The Bahamas, all children must be repatriated with their parents, the group says, while noting that those children may choose to become Bahamian citizens at the age of 18, pursuant to the Constitution.

The government is also being asked to regularize all illegal immigrants who have been in The Bahamas from a certain fixed date.

Reiterating a policy that has on may occasions been stated by Minister Peet, Civil Society Bahamas says that before any work permit is granted the government must be vigilant to ensure that there are no qualified Bahamians to fill the posts to prevent Bahamians being deprived of legitimate lucrative positions.

The group says positions requiring inordinate amounts of languages and long years of experience should be looked at with jaundice eyes as some of those jobs 'requiring' 20 years experience are filled by 30 and 35 year olds.

Before work permits are renewed, the report recommends that a council made up of a tripartite grouping comprising government, labour and the private sector should give their approval.

"In this way," the report says, "it would prevent continual renewal of permits where Bahamians are deliberately being deprived."

It also says the government should be careful about granting citizenship to persons previously on work permit as this may prevent Bahamians who have spent thousands of dollars qualifying themselves for those same positions from getting them.

Every six months, the Department of Immigration should release the number of work permits issued along with the profession or craft, the group is also urging.

Civil Society says it observed during the town meeting that the public at large was extremely emotional, agitated and outright hostile to any suggestion that would result in an inordinate delay in implementing solutions to the illegal immigration problem.

Candia Dames, The Bahama Journal

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