Monday, August 30, 2010

Perry Christie: Brent Symonette's utterances on his administration's immigration policy have been quite confusing

Guardian News Editor

The time has long passed for the Ingraham administration to articulate a clear and consistent immigration policy, according to Opposition Leader Perry Christie.

Christie's comments came in an interview with The Nassau Guardian after Deputy Prime Minister Brent Symonette, who has ministerial responsibility for immigration, said in a statement that apprehension exercises will resume September 1.

A day earlier, he had said there were no plans to restart apprehensions.

Christie said Symonette's utterances on his administration's immigration policy have been quite confusing.

"It seems to me that the deputy prime minister does not have a grasp of his portfolio, given the confusion that he is bringing about in the different statements that he is making as to the intention of the ministry(of immigration)with respect to illegal immigrants,"Christie said.

"It appears that he is now being directed by persons from outside of that ministry--either the Cabinet or some other force[perhaps]the prime minister--in terms of how he is looking in his pronouncements and there is a need to become more consistent in articulating the policy. And so that has resulted in a comical kind of development in one of the most pressing and urgent issues confronting the country."

Symonette faced similar controversy relating to his portfolio earlier this year when he contradicted Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham's announced policies that undocumented Haitian migrants who came to The Bahamas after the January earthquake in Haiti would be charged before the courts with illegal landing.

Asked by The Nassau Guardian what would happen to a group of Haitian migrants who landed in The Bahamas not long after, Symonette said they would most likely be released.

Within hours they were taken to court and charged with illegal landing. The migrants were later repatriated.

Christie said there are various important reasons why a clear immigration policy must be outlined.

"It is very, very important that the country has articulated for it the policy of The Bahamas government with respect to the illegal immigration situation here in The Bahamas, especially at a time when we are discussing the proposed Baha Mar development, which contemplates thousands of work permits which already, I think, embraces the full understanding that immigrants are now a full part of the construction force in the country and that if we are going to in fact have the maximum benefit of a Baha Mar development, it has to take into consideration the government's policy as it is now working and as it will affect the construction industry,"he said.

"The Bahamas, faced with the level of unemployment, which is in itself related to the increasing crime, needs to have a clear, and coherent policy which we all can embrace and that is what we call upon the minister of immigration to do, to get it right with his colleagues and then come to the country and articulate a policy that makes sense to the country and one in which the community of immigrants who have become(legal)residents of our country can also themselves be a part of enforcing."

The Opposition leader recognized that successive administrations have been faced with the politics of immigration. He said immigration policies sometimes result in fear and concern and the loss of support among an increasing voting bloc--the Haitian community.

"This is a very difficult subject that at the best of times governments walk gingerly in dealing with issues relating to immigration, but it is an incredibly serious issue that will impact the future of our country and we need to have unanimity among the political directorate. There ought to be no division between the parties on what the policy of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas is,"Christie said."We need to be able to agree on an issue of that kind, to discuss it nationally and agree because it is an incredibly serious issue and one that is not going away. And the longer we take to be strong and bring our national will to bear on this problem it's going to continue to get worse, and we are going to rue the day that we delayed and procrastinated on having an immigration policy that can be strictly enforced with the concurrence of the population of our country."On August 16, Symonette issued a statement saying:"Persons who are found to be in The Bahamas illegally will be repatriated forthwith."

He said Thursday that in the interest of allowing illegal migrants who wished to leave immediately and voluntarily to do so, the government has allowed for a brief period of voluntary repatriation.

The current debate on illegal immigration was sparked by the change in immigration policy announced by the prime minister in the wake of the earthquake that devastated Port-au-Prince in January. But the immigration issue has long been a controversial one.

Under the Christie administration, then Blue Hills MP Leslie Miller had warned that the illegal immigration problem was a ticking time bomb.