Despite hurricane devastation, Bahamas should not deport Haitians to a dysfunctional country | Editorial

The Bahamas, for decades, has made clear that its Haitian residents, especially the undocumented, are not welcome. They are unfairly stigmatized, ostracized and bad-mouthed. But this is the worst time for the country to resume its iron-clad immigration policy of deporting Haitians who have been living in the Bahamas illegally.

In September, after Hurricane Dorian brought utter devastation to Grand Bahama Island and Abaco Island, Prime Minister Hubert Minnis declared that deportations would be suspended, a justified respite. Last week, though, he announced they would resume.

Obviously, the trauma of being deported before the hurricane to a dysfunctional Haiti — rocked by corruption, protests, an ineffectual government, a flummoxed president, food scarcity, rampant unemployment and even tent cities still inhabited almost a decade after the 2010 earthquake — pales in comparison to barely surviving Dorian’s deadly ferocity and then being kicked out of the country, perhaps still unsure if relatives are dead in the debris or alive somewhere.

Michelle Karshan, who runs a disaster-recovery program for children in Haiti, told the Editorial Board, “There’s been no national budget for [two] years, there’s a huge movement for the president to step down, hospitals and schools are not open and there are upwards of [30,000] internally displaced people since the earthquake.

“It’s an impossibility to resettle people into Haiti now.”

Deportations, no doubt, will resume. However, it is particularly cruel to do so at this time. This is the same argument that the Editorial Board has made in recommending that the United States continue to extend Temporary Protected Status to Haitians who fled here after the 2010 earthquake.

Of course, they are here legally, able to work and put down roots, however tentative. But Haiti is in no shape to receive those in the United States, either. And because they send remittances to relatives back home, ejecting them also cuts a financial lifeline.

Haitians Bahamians, likewise, contribute to the economy. Why can’t even the undocumented continue to do so, participating in efforts to rebuild the islands, earning money while doing so?

The Bahamas is a sovereign nation with the right to legislate its immigration policies as it sees fit. But the government’s restrictions on Haitian residents’ ability to return to communities such as the Mudd and Sandbanks by banning any rebuilding, after they’ve been sequestered in shelters, sounds like a land grab, an attempt to get rid of a population that was never welcome in the first place.

As with any immigrant population, Haitian Bahamians have settled there for decades, creating families. Some have children who became citizens, some have offspring who are stateless because they failed to apply for citizenship between the ages of 18 and 19, as the law allows.

Moreover, it’s foolhardy to demand that they present documents that prove they are legally able to live in the Bahamas when so many homes and their contents were completely destroyed.

Minnis should show the same compassion he did immediately after the storm and not be swayed by politics. If he does not relent, we urge the members of CARICOM, an organization of Caribbean nations, to speak up on Haitians’ behalf. The organization rightly protested when the Dominican Republic sought to withdraw citizenship from Haitians there.

The organization, while respecting the Bahamas’ autonomy, should speak up now. The Bahamas is a CARICOM member. So is Haiti. That should count for something, especially during this humanitarian crisis.