Minister Fred Mitchell’s misleading attempts to justify his new immigration policy of targeting innocent children cannot be allowed to go unchallenged.
Over the past few weeks – notably during a vitriolic address to young Bahamian students at the University of the West Indies in Barbados – Mitchell has sought to explain away the move to block undocumented children from the classroom by comparing it to the student visa system in the United States.
While I loath even the idea of responding to his ill-conceived diatribe, which was clearly designed to defend actions that are indefensible, it behooves me in the interests of truth and justice to correct a few of the more blaring inaccuracies.
In the United States, student visas are issued to young persons who hail from another country and wish to attend an American learning institution. Prior to leaving their home country, they are required to apply for documentation, issued by the US government, which will allow them to enter and leave the country freely, and enroll for classes over the duration of their term of study.
In contrast, the new rules created out of thin air by Mitchell and his colleagues, which have no basis in Bahamian law and in fact clearly violate the Bahamas Constitution and the Education Act, are not aimed at foreign students coming into the country. Rather, they are aimed at children, many of them primary school age, who were born in The Bahamas and have never called another place home.
These children have a constitutional right to be registered as Bahamian citizens upon application after their 18th birthday. Mitchell and his colleagues have no right to treat them like foreigners.
However, even if these poor children were to be considered foreigners, Mitchell’s misleading comparison to America would still not apply. This was confirmed to me in a recent conversation with a US official.
That fact is, ever since the US Supreme Court ruling Plyler vs. Doe in 1982, all undocumented children and young adults have the same right to attend public primary and secondary schools as do US citizens and permanent residents.
The fact is, it is against the law in the United States for a school to: deny admission to a student on the basis of their immigration status; treat a student differently in an effort do determine their status; or require them to disclose or document their status. Yet this is exactly what the new policy announced by Mitchell seeks to do.
The fact is, despite what the minister says, the policies of the United States on this matter could not be more diametrically opposed to the witch-hunt the current government is seeking to launch in our public schools. In the US, thankfully, the sacred right to education is recognized as universal.
I would like to be generous and put the half-truths being spread by the government on this issue down to poor research. Therefore, for the benefit of Mitchell and his colleagues, all the relevant information they require on US education policies can be found here: http://bit.ly/1E3PKZD
While speaking in Barbados, Mitchell went on to make several references made to myself and other human rights advocates that need to be corrected for the record.
Despite what the minister says, when I asked Haitian pastors to encourage their Haitian brothers and sisters to voluntarily repatriate themselves rather than risk being rounded up and thrown into the Detention Center, it was solely in relation to those who had absolutely no legal or potential status in this country. What Mitchell is seeking to do to innocent children who were born in the country is another matter entirely.
Despite what he says, I never have and never will attack minister Mitchell personally. I have berated the reprehensible and illegal actions undertaken by his department, and will continue to do so until he sees the light or recalls the principles of compassion, love and regard for God’s people, especially His precious children, taught to the minister at St. Augustine’s College when he himself was a young and impressionable student.
Mitchell loves to let it be known that he is an alumnus of that glorious institution, a distinction which I can also proudly boast. So let us not betray its Christ-like precepts. Thus in that spirit I profess my love for Fred Mitchell, but abhor the pain he is causing so many of God’s people.
Vice president, Grand Bahama Human Rights Association