WP0RRH Marsh Harbor, ABACO ISLAND, BAHAMAS. 6th Sep, 2019. Hurricane Dorian survivors line up for evacuation by boat Marsh Harbor on Abaco Island in the Bahamas. Hundreds of people were waiting to be taken to safety after their town was flattened by hurricane Dorian. Credit: Robin Loznak/ZUMA Wire/Alamy Live News

Hurricane Dorian evacuees forced to get off ferry shows deeper immigration issues in the US, Bahamas

3 mins read

Immigration issues emerge in Bahamas during post-Hurricane Dorian clean up and recovery.

The Baleària Caribbean, a fast ferry carrying Hurricane Dorian evacuees from the Bahamas, was set to sail last week with hundreds of passengers. Like dozens of private boats and ships transporting residents of Abaco Islands and Grand Bahamas to the US, the Baleària agreed to relocate residents who lost everything.

However, right when ferry goers were about to leave, the captain made an abrupt announcement. Any passenger that did not have a US visa or carried a criminal record could not travel. The last minute order resulted in 119 people, including children, to disembark. They were left at the dock, after they had been waiting there for days to receive relocation relief. 

When reports surfaced and social media posts showed their removal, it set off a wave of criticisms.

“Bahamians extend their hospitality to over five million U.S. tourists yearly. It is our duty to offer residents of the Bahamas sanctuary in their time of need,” said Nana Gyamfi, Executive Director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration.

In response to growing disapproval, the acting director of US Customs and Border Protection, Mark Morgan, said in a press conference that it was not an order given by the CBP:

“We’re not working and telling a cruise line that you cannot allow anyone without documents. That’s just not being done, okay? So there’s just some confusion there. We will accept anyone on humanitarian reasons that needs to come here. We’re going to process them expeditedly. Again, though, if they are deemed to be inadmissible — for example, if they have a long criminal history and they’ve been denied entry in the United States previously, we’re not going to allow that person into the country to roam freely. We’re going to process them like we normally would.”

Morgan reiterated his press conference comments on Twitter, stating that the CBP “has the discretion to issue humanitarian or medical parole on a case-by-case basis to travelers with a proven need to enter the U.S. – for a temporary period of time – to receive emergency care.

Subsequently, the blame was placed on the captain of the Baleària making the decision.

The Blame game

Several days later, the Baleària Caribbean stated in a release that they were indeed working in coordination with CBP. Said the ferry company: “We boarded these passengers with the understanding that they could travel to the United States without visas, only to later having been advised that in order to travel to Ft. Lauderdale they required prior in-person authorization from the immigration authorities in Nassau.”

A Twitter user replied to Baleària’s release with claims that they did in fact handle the situation poorly. @Ashydad said “This is very dishonest…. my Mom and Sister (after losing everything) was charged $405 dollars plus an additional $25 for bag to evacuate.”

To worsen matters, the Trump Administration announced that it would not grant Temporary Protective Status to Bahamians. 

As well, Trump said in his response to the rising criticisms of turning back evacuees. “I don’t want to allow people that weren’t supposed to be in the Bahamas to come into the United States, including some very bad people, and some very bad gang members, and some very, very bad drug dealers.”

His response is reminiscent of a late 18th and 19th century policy the US enforced against Bahamian women. Julio Capó, Jr who researches LGBTQ communities in Miami wrote: 

Single or unaccompanied Black women from the Bahamas were often denied entry at the port of Miami in the early 1900s, for example. In relying at least partially on a long-existing, racist narrative of linking Blackness to sexual perversity, immigration officials often suspected these Black women of being prostitutes and therefore deemed likely to become a public charge. A Miami newspaper noted in 1919, “every boat from the Bahamas brings in undesirables that are bound to become charges and a public nuisance.”

The undocumented and immigration in the Bahamas

There has been speculation that the Trump order really targets a large segment Haitian immigrants who live in the Bahamas as undocumented migrants.

According to the New Humanitarian, Abaco, one of the islands totally destroyed by Hurricane Dorian, has a population of 17,200 with 30 percent being Haitian. It is estimated that the Bahamas is made up of 20 percent of Haitian immigrants and their children who were born there, but remain stateless.

To date, there are over 1,300 missing persons. Most say that they are Haitian residents who opted to stay in Abaco’s makeshift shanty town to weather out the storm.

Those who made it out are at shelters on other parts of the Bahamas. Yet, without the proper paperwork, their status is in limbo. In the Miami New Times, it says that the Bahamian government has increased its enforcement of immigration over the years, and even more so under Prime Minister Hubert Minnis. Haitians, Cubans and Jamaicans — legal and undocumented — make up a significant portion of migrants.

While the Bahamian government has provided shelter for displaced immigrants, it did not promise that they will be protected in the long term.

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