Remarks by Fred Mitchell MP Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration Passing out (graduation) ceremony for Immigration Officers
In my last year in high school, we were always engaged as students in one debate or argument over some subject or other, as all high school students would. The great debate of my day was whether or not The Bahamas could be an independent country. Most of the progressives said yes, many said no. By 1973 that became academic and the country took on the right of self-determination. My last year in high school was 1970. None of you who graduate today were born.
It has been forty one years since 1973 and you now are the guardians of that independence, born free in a free and independent country. The progressives of my day won the argument. We are now about to pass the legacy and the fight on to you. I want to congratulate you and your families as you step up to the plate in the protection of our country. I hope that you all have a life of fulfilling service.
You join at an exciting time, when all eyes are on you and how you will deport yourselves. There is a lot of idle propaganda going around which is designed to defame the work that has been done by your colleagues in immigration to be but let that not deter you from the central job and focus, which is to enforce the law without fear or favour and to help keep the peace and good order in The Bahamas.
There was a time in our history described by Michael Craton from just after the American Civil War when our country was in the doldrums. Its economy tanked and there was migration from this country to the United States of America. During that period French Africans as Haitians were then called were continuously occupying the country in the south and coming to Nassau. Special laws were passed by the men and women of that day to avoid what they thought would be the revolutionary fervor of Haiti spreading to The Bahamas.
That was in the 19th century.
In the 20th century from the 1950s Dawn Marshall in her excellent work The Haitian Problem wrote about the policies adopted by the government to control illegal migration from Haiti. The policies were the same ones we pursue today, that of repatriation and regulation. We struggle with the issue of immigration today. This administration means to manage this problem.
Meanwhile in the professional sector: in banking, in tourism in real estate, day after day, night after night there is one call to the other from citizens of our country to me who believe they are being displaced in their professions by those from the north of us who come in as tourists and the take up work in The Bahamas without permission or who obtain permission within a slice of the economy which has a sign up saying: “Bahamians need not apply”.
This is the complaint in Abaco, in Harbour Island, in Exuma, in Grand Bahama, in New Providence and In Eleuthera.
Violations of immigration laws know no nationality boundaries: The Bahamas is a desirable home. We have a dynamic economy
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. We are a welcoming people but those who come must come through the front door. You must come legally and you must be documented. Those who do not do that should return home or be returned home. There is no special magic in that and nothing inhumane or unlawful about that.
That is the background and the history against which you come to this job.
You come to a proud corps of officers. They look forward to you joining their ranks. We are working though the bureaucracy to ensure their promotions soon. Please do not be deterred by the false imagery that is being portrayed of your soon to be colleagues. There is a saying in law: audi alterem partem. Hear the other side. Know that some people will use fair means or foul to discredit your work because they have their own agendas.
In the meantime, you must stick to your remit, the protection of The Bahamas.
Today, the Deputy Prime Minister is here to address you. This is the first class since 2009. In 2012, we pledged to the Bahamian people that we would carry the work of immigration without fear or favour. I hope that this is a winning formula that pleases the Bahamian people. You’ve heard it from me. Now you should hear it from our Deputy Prime Minister, who often acts for me as Immigration Minister when I am away. I welcome the Deputy Prime Minister now and I ask you to stand as he addresses us.