The immigration fiasco pt. 2
By By Arinthia S. Komolafe
The Latin phrase “Vox Populi, vox dei” when translated to English means that “the voice of the people is the voice of God”. This phrase is commonly attributed to voting and was most notably used by Sir Lynden Pindling after conceding the Progressive Liberal Party’s defeat of the 1992 general election. Today, the same holds true; however, Bahamians ought to realize that their voices carry power not only during election time every five years, but at all times. We must continue to discuss and encourage dialogue on matters of national interest in an attempt to influence and shape policy decisions. Issues such as crime, education, healthcare, the diversification of our economy and immigration certainly stand out among others.
In my previous article, we explored the possible implementation of an amnesty program. The merits of an amnesty program provide an incentive for undocumented immigrants to regularize their status, obtain temporary residence/work status or face immediate deportation in accordance with applicable Bahamian laws. Further, once it is determined which individuals arrived in the country after a particular date, the government must make haste to deport such individuals back to their home countries immediately. The primary obligation of any government is to protect its citizens and foster an environment in which its people can prosper. It is imperative, therefore, for the government to make every effort to ascertain the number of illegal immigrants in the country, the skill-set of these individuals and how best they can contribute to the society.
Immigration, policy and the economy
An effective immigration policy in The Bahamas would be tied into the government’s education, investment and economic policies. It is widely known that while Haitians are not the only demographic of individuals who constitute the illegal immigration population in The Bahamas, they make up the vast majority. It is estimated that approximately 66 percent of Haitians in the Republic of Haiti work in the agriculture sector. They are particularly engaged in subsistence farming, which contributes to about one third of Haiti’s gross domestic product. During a hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2010, former United States President Bill Clinton expressed his regret of having oversight of trade policies that caused the demise of Haiti’s rice farming during his term in office. In what he termed a “devil’s bargain”, the U.S. forced Haiti to reduce tariffs on imported subsidized U.S. rice. The demise of rice farming in Haiti has been attributed to the aforesaid policy and arguably hindered Haiti’s ability to become self-sufficient. There is no doubt that this policy has also had a direct and negative impact on The Bahamas and other developing countries within the region that are not self-sufficient today. Indirectly, it can be argued that this policy also contributed to the increased migration of Haitian nationals to The Bahamas in search of economic security.
Bahamians understanding the fragility of the cyclical tourism and financial services industries have been advocating for years that the government provide more incentives for the development of the agricultural sector in an attempt to expand the industry and diversify our economy. An expansion of the agricultural sector can provide thousands of jobs and move us toward self-sufficiency and some form of food security. However, the widely held perception is that Bahamians are unlikely to engage in agriculture on a grand scale. While that may or may not be true, what is clear is that we can utilize the skills of Haitian migrants present in the country to develop the agriculture industry. If two out of three Haitians are engaged in farming, it follows then that this expertise should be in The Bahamas. A thriving agriculture industry can reduce our balance of trade deficit by reducing food imports and creating greater opportunities for exports.
Granting temporary work permits under a properly planned amnesty program for illegal immigrants can to a great extent ease the burden these individuals place on the public purse. This no doubt currently drains our resources in areas such as education and healthcare without a substantial contribution to the Bahamian economy. It is well-known that immigrants remit most of their funds to their home countries to assist their families back at home. As a result, very little of what is made by the immigrant worker is spent within the Bahamian economy. The implementation of a value-added or sales tax would assist in an immigrant worker’s contribution to government revenue in addition to work permit fees and national insurance contributions.
It would be an understatement to remark that Bahamian employers play a major role in the illegal immigration problem that exists in the country today. Driven by the need to pay reduced wages to maximize profits and minimize expenses, many are inclined to hire an immigrant lacking the necessary documentation to engage in gainful occupation. Economic immigrants usually weigh the cost of traveling to a country and being able to find work against being apprehended by the authorities. In a country like The Bahamas that is lax in enforcing its laws against illegal immigration, it is easy to see how this issue has spiraled out of control. In addition to enforcing its laws regarding deportation, the government must also implement more stern penalties to discourage Bahamians from hiring illegal immigrants. In France for example, the law prohibits the entry or irregular stay of an illegal immigrant. If a French citizen is found guilty of harboring such individuals, they can face up to five years in prison and be fined €30,000. The low-tolerance French government has also gone as far as implementing quotas to combat smugglers who profit financially from moving immigrants into, through and out of France.
The government must strengthen its patrols to minimize the entry of illegal immigrants to our shores. More of the annual budget should be dedicated to providing the necessary resources to aid the Royal Bahamas Defence Force in its attempt to eradicate illegal activities on the perimeters of our borders.
Many have suggested that bases on our southern islands collectively known as MICAL can help to mitigate some of the problems we currently face in this regard. The problem of illegal immigration is not unique to The Bahamas. Hence, we must keep discussions on this issue going and learn from the mistakes and successes of other nations. We need not reinvent the wheel but must conduct detailed research with a view to implementing a robust immigration policy.
Arinthia S. Komolafe is an attorney-at-law. Comments can be directed at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Feb 23, 2012