The harsh new tactics being used by immigration officials have been denounced as illegal, immoral and designed to strike terror in the Haitian-Bahamian community.
Fred Smith, president of the Grand Bahamas Human Rights Association (GBHRA) charged that the government’s mass round-up policy is unconstitutional and a flagrant violation of the fundamental concept that individuals are innocent until proven guilty.
“It can only be described as institutional terrorism, if by that term we mean an inhuman and degrading policy designed to strike fear in the hearts of an entire community,” Smith said. “They are breeding ‘Haitian hatred’, racism and discrimination. It seems The Bahamas is now into ethnic cleansing.
“The GBHRA has nothing against immigration officers detaining those they have good reason to believe are in the country illegally, and subjecting them to the process outlined in the constitution for anyone suspected of breaking the law.
“However, this draconian business of wholesale round-ups in the dead of night, indiscriminately casting a net over entire sections of the population – both innocent and guilty alike – and then sorting illegal immigrant from lawful resident after the fact, is downright criminal.”
Countless innocents caught up in such raids over the years have been subjected to lengthy detention periods in hostile and unsanitary conditions, and even mistakenly deported to Haiti, Smith said.
“These are people who have a legal right to be here, who are arbitrarily ripped away from their normal life – their bank accounts, which they are not given a chance to access; their property, their possessions, their jobs, which they are forced to abandon.
“The Bahamas does not need to violate people’s fundamental rights in order to enforce its immigration policies. We cannot throw out the baby with the bathwater,” he said.
The GBHRA president, one of the foremost attorneys in The Bahamas, pointed out that Haitians, both legal and illegal, enjoy 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. “There is a clearly prescribed process for applying the laws of The Bahamas that protect the rights of the individual at all times.
“Sadly, rather than applying the law properly on a case-by-case basis, this new policy of home invasions, of totally illegal road blocks and check-points, seems designed to create ‘shock and awe’, to send an intimidating message to the Haitian-Bahamian community. And it’s working – some have abandoned their homes and even their children at the approach of the government’s Gestapo squads.”
Smith noted that many of the “bully tactics” now being used by the Immigration Department have already been declared illegal by the courts. These include: arbitrary home invasion, detention and deportation; stop and search exercises; and the requirement that immigrants must prove on the spot that they have the right to be in the country.
“The burden of proof is not on the immigrant,” Smith said. “There is no legal requirement for a Haitian or anyone else living in The Bahamas to travel with their work permit or other form of identification. No officer of the law has the right to detain anyone for failure to produce the same, and any policy that includes such provisions is an outright violation of our laws.
“The Bahamas is not Guantánamo Bay. We do not simply detain people without due process and the legal authority to do so. The GBHRA calls on the government to cease and desist from this inhumane policy immediately, and replace it with one that is in accordance with constitutionally-mandated due process and the rule of law.”