Miami activists and a Hurricane Dorian survivor called on the Bahamian government Thursday to suspend immigration enforcement actions that threaten to deport undocumented migrants living in government-operated Bahamian shelters.
“While we respect that the country has laws and can enforce them, this is not the time to enforce these laws,” said Marleine Bastien, executive director of the Little Haiti-based Family Action Network Movement. “The Bahamian government promised not the deport undocumented migrants after storm. Recovery efforts are still happening. People have lost their homes, their documents and papers.”
Bastien, along with spokespeople from the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, 350 South Florida, Florida Immigration Coalition and a hurricane survivor, urged the Bahamian government at a press conference to not deport any Bahamians in the country until they can rebuild.
“It’s simply unjust. The news is really disappointing,” Bastien said.
Immediately after the massive Category Five storm devastated the islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama, the Bahamian government said it would not carry out any immigration deportations at shelters for hurricane victims.
On Tuesday, however, the Bahamian government warned that it will begin enforcing all immigration laws.
“The public is advised that The Bahamas is a country of laws and government by the rule of law,” the Bahamaian Department of Immigration said in a statement. “Therefore, the government is obliged to follow the law as outlined in The Bahamas Immigration Act.”
Elsworth Johnson, the Bahamian Immigration Minister, said that shelters will not be used to “circumvent the law” and that immigration acts are “in full effect,” according to the The Jamaica Observer and The Nassau Guardian on Sunday.
“Bahamian leaders should not be deporting anyone from shelters for so many reasons. A big reason is that the government is going back on their promise,” said Steven Forester, immigration policy coordinator at the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti.
“It makes us wonder if this was a bait-and-switch? Did the Bahamian government always plan to deport these people? Was the hurricane an excuse to remove these victims all along? It’s an outrage,” Forester said.
The activists also called on the United States government officials to urge Bahamian leaders not to deport any migrants in the aftermath of the storm.
Thousands of people were evacuated from Abaco and Grand Bahama after the storm. Bastien and Forester said that Bahamian leaders are likely to deport migrants to Haiti, where violent clashes are gripping the nation and causing unrest.
“It’s not right to send these victims away after a hurricane, given that they may have lost their papers, nor is it ethical to send them to a country that is facing its own issues itself,” Forester said. “These people need some humanity.”