Journal of the Bahamas Historical Society, Volume 16 (October 1994)
THE HAITIAN QUESTION IN THE BAHAMAS
The Haitian Question is one which challenges our very commitment as a democratic nation. It is a complex question which requires serious analysis and resolute action. We are facing the possibility of civil war or, at least, civil unrest; a threat to the domestic stability of the Bahamas. There is no doubt that this issue, except for unemployment and th need to diversify our economy, is one of the most pressing public policy, moral, political and social issues facing The Bahamas.
When we say "the Haitian Question" who are we talking about? Those Bahamians of Haitian parent or parents; those persons who were born in Haiti and are now naturalized Bahamians; those Haitians who have Bahamian permanent residency; or, those undocumented Haitians who came into the country illegally? One of the dangers of the public discussions on this issue is that all of these categories are indiscriminately included as part of the "Haitian Question."
While we clearly may not be able to readily absorb 40-60,000 undocumented Haitian nationals in our society, we need to develop a humane and effective national policy and strategy to regularise those undocumented persons of Haitian and other nationalities who have a valid claim to Bahamian citizenship or permanent residency. Once these persons are regularised, we need to integrate them into Bahamian society, so that they would have a shared stake in the dreams and aspirations of our society.
I submit that any serious national immigration policy should comprise a two pronged approach to the "Haitian Question". First, we must immediately regularise those persons who were bora here or have some valid constitutional or legal claim to Bahamian citizenship and integrate them into Bahamian society.
Secondly, those undocumented persons who have entered the Bahamas within the past 12 years and do not have permanent anchorage in Bahamian society should be repatriated or given an option, as the labour demands of the Bahamas requires, of a labour contract for a specified period and thereafter be required to return to their country.
The absence of a coherent national immigration policy means that the Immigration Department does not have a framework in which to execute our immigration laws. The United States immigration laws have an overriding policy consideration which is that of the reconciliation of families; thus, 1st and 2nd Preferences under those laws relate to family categories. Whereas, Bahamian immigration policy seem to be dictated more by the personality of the particular Minister of Immigration than any objective set of criteria. For example, under former Minister Loftus Roker there appeared to be a more rigid approach with greater reliance on raids and deportations; whereas, under former Minister Alfred Maycock there appears to have been a more liberal approach. The approach of the present administration seems ambivalent, at best, vacilitating between the Roker and Maycock approaches. While the present Administration appears to be clearing up much of the backlog of applications, a clear policy statement to offer predictability has yet to be articulated.