Attorney and human rights activist Fred Smith, QC, Wednesday called the government’s proposed amendments to the Immigration Act “unconstitutional and unreasonable”.
In an interview with the Eyewitness News, Smith said, he intends to bring legal action against members of the government if they “continue to unlawfully target” persons born in The Bahamas of Haitian descent.
During his contribution to the mid-year budget debate in the House of Assembly (HOA) Monday, Immigration Minister Brent Symonette said the country’s immigration laws are being “overhauled”.
Symonette said the government will finally address persons born in The Bahamas to illegal parents who have not applied for citizenship before their 19 birthday.
“But the more important issue going forward is with persons born in The Bahamas to non-Bahamian parents. These persons who fail to apply after the age of 19, unless other circumstances entitled them to, will only be granted permanent residency with the right to work and not citizenship.”
Smith called the government’s proposal “a knee-jerk, ill thought out reaction”.
“It makes no sense to me. It means that persons born here in The Bahamas – [who] don’t apply for citizenship between the age of 18 and 19 – will have… less rights that a person born outside of The Bahamas,” he said.
“It is an emotional reaction that is simply playing to a political audience. It is an unlawful and unconstitutional and… I will be bringing an action to challenge this new government policy or even if they pass it as law because it targets, unconstitutionally, an ethic minority being persons born of Haitian parents…”
Smith said there are several reasons why persons cannot apply before their 19 birthday.
“A lot of poor persons simply cannot afford the cost of applying. It’s difficult to get the papers, getting documents from your parents, whether they were married or not, who were born here or not, is often an expensive exercise,” he said.
“The Department of Immigration is notorious for having lost files. They apply and then the Department denies the files existence and they have to apply again. So there are costs attached to those repeated applications as well and some who have applied have been waiting for years with no response.”
Smith said if the government really wanted to make a difference, it would amend the law and give everyone born in The Bahamas automatic citizenship.