NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Attorney Fred Smith yesterday accused the government of misrepresenting its immigration record to the public and international community, pointing to its longstanding practice of deportation without due process.
Smith said The Bahamas’ record is clear, and suggested no one should be fooled by the government’s “regrettable propaganda” in a press statement.
He was responding to statements by Attorney General Carl Bethel and Minister of Immigration Elsworth Johnson, who have defended the country’s decision to resume deportations in the wake of Hurricane Dorian.
Earlier this month, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights called on the government to suspend mass immigration enforcement policies to allow for due process entitled under international law.
Smith furthered the government’s rhetoric is proven false by the judgements in the court since 1989; the petitions determined by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights; the requests for precautionary measures issued by the IACHR and the annual human rights report submitted by the State Department to the Congress of the United States.
He also said every testimony Human Right Bahamas has collected for decades also debunks the government’s claims.
“And most tellingly, the fact that no provision existed for shelters for perhaps over 9,000 people of Haitian ethnic origin in the Abacos and who preferred to take their chances with the wrath of Dorian, a Category 5 hurricane, rather than expose themselves and their homes to the terror of Bahamas Immigration puts [falsehood] to this propaganda,” Smith said.
In response to the UN agency, Bethel said immigration officers nor the immigration department deport people, as that is a court process.
Smith said it was a diplomatic faux par for him to have responded to the OHCHR so “rashly”, calling his statement an “emotive knee jerk defense of The Bahamas”.
He said despite the claims of due process, thousands of people have been removed from the country without adherence to the law.
Smith challenged the government to publish the deportation orders for the last 5,000 “expulsions”.
In a separate statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs assured that The Bahamas adheres to due process with respect to its immigration policies and follows international standards.
Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis has also echoed those remarks.
The government temporarily suspended deportation exercises following the storm and encouraged storm victims, regardless of origin or status to take advantage of emergency and relief services. However, it announced the resumption of immigration enforcement exercises at the end of September.
Smith credited the government for acting humanely toward victims, regardless of origin, race or ethnicity, in the immediate aftermath of the storm; however, he said the government pivoted to its default position of visiting “institutionalized discrimination, and victimization” on the Haitian community after pandering to the “Haitian haters” in The Bahamas.
Additionally, Smith further claimed the government took advantage of thousands of storm victims in shelters by capturing private information from them for immigration purposes.
The attorney said every person is protected by the constitutional presumption of innocence and has the right to freedom of movement.
However, Smith said people who do not have a document evidencing citizenship, residency or work visa are targeted in The Bahamas.
He said undocumented individuals with rights to be in The Bahamas are systematically lumped together with illegal migrants, and all are treated as outlaws.
Smith said the state of affairs is unfortunate, noting the devastating losses suffered by storm victims.
“It is a disgrace [and] it is inhumane for The Bahamas to continue to ‘expel’ or ‘repatriate’ people born of the soil instead of giving them either citizenship or permanent residency so that they can continue to live their lives is the only country that they were born into and have lived all of their lives,” Smith said.
“This is particularly so of the victims of Dorian from Abaco.”