Bahamian-American Lawmaker Urges US to Let In Storm Survivors Seeking Refuge

“They Need Our Help”

HAVANA TIMES – The death toll in the Bahamas after Hurricane Dorian hit 50 Monday and is expected to keep rising exponentially. Many survivors of the Category 5 storm are now seeking refuge in the United States. At least 4,000 hurricane survivors have traveled to the U.S. since the hurricane hit, but many more are facing a struggle with paperwork and mounting confusion about what’s necessary to gain entry.

Over the weekend, more than 100 people seeking aid and refuge in the U.S. were turned away after boarding a ferry bound for Florida.

Acting Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection Mark Morgan said that the U.S. is considering extending temporary protected status for Dorian survivors, while President Trump dismissed the idea of easing travel requirements for people from the Bahamas.

We speak with Shevrin Jones, Democractic Florida representative. He is Bahamian-American, and his family lives in the Bahamas.

 

Transcript

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We begin today’s show with the Bahamas, where thousands remain missing, and thousands more have had their lives thrown into disarray, since climate-fueled Hurricane Dorian swept through the island nation last week, decimating entire communities and leaving at least 70,000 people homeless. The death toll hit 50 Monday, and it’s expected to keep rising exponentially. While search-and-rescue missions continue, many survivors of the Category 5 storm are now seeking refuge in the United States. At least 4,000 hurricane survivors have traveled to the U.S. since the hurricane hit, but many more are facing a struggle with paperwork and mounting confusion about what’s necessary to gain entry.

AMY GOODMAN: On Monday, the acting commissioner of CBP — that’s Customs and Border Protection — Mark Morgan, said the U.S. is considering extending temporary protected status, known as TPS, to Bahamians and that he would discuss it with President Trump. Republican Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott of Florida also called on the Trump administration to lift certain visa requirements to speed Bahamians’ entry into the U.S. But on Monday, Trump dismissed the idea of easing travel requirements for people from the Bahamas.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: But we have to be very careful. Everybody needs totally proper documentation, because the — look, the Bahamas had some tremendous problems with people going to the Bahamas that weren’t supposed to be there. I don’t want to allow people that weren’t supposed to be in the Bahamas to come in to the United States, including some very bad people and some very bad gang members and some very, very bad drug dealers. So, we are going to be very, very strong on that. Let me — let me just explain. Large sections, believe it or not, of the Bahamas were not hit. And what we’re doing is bringing the people to those sections of the Bahamas that have not been hit.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was President Trump referring to some of the hurricane survivors as “very bad people.” His comments came just a day after more than a hundred people seeking aid and refuge in the United States were turned away after boarding a ferry bound for Florida over the weekend. The passengers, including young families, got on the ship in Freeport, Bahamas, on Sunday. But before the boat left shore, those without U.S. travel visas were told to disembark. WSVN reporter Brian Entin reported on the incident from aboard the ferry and spoke to one remaining passenger as the ship left shore.

PASSENGER: I think this is terrible. I think they should allow everyone to come into the U.S. They originally said that you can come without a police record and without a visa. And now they’re taking that back. That’s really ridiculous. That’s awful.

BRIAN ENTIN: How many people do you think had to get off? Did you see?

PASSENGER: They said 130 people had to come off. A hundred and thirty people had to come off the ship today.

BRIAN ENTIN: And now we leave?

PASSENGER: Now we are leaving them, and it’s only like 200 people on the boat now.

AMY GOODMAN: The ferry operator, a Spanish company called Balearia, has since apologized for kicking the passengers off the boat. A spokeswoman for the company said the U.S. immigration officials had told them to allow people without visas to board, before reversing the decision, saying Bahamians without paperwork would need to leave for the U.S. from Nassau. Customs and Border Protection has blamed the ferry company for the incident. According to The New York Times, U.S. authorities said Monday only travelers arriving by air would be allowed in without visas.

Well, for more, we go to Miami, where we’re joined by Shevrin Jones, Democratic Florida state representative. He is Bahamian-American, has family in the Bahamas. He has been lobbying the Trump administration to waive visa requirements for Bahamians.

Representative Jones, thanks so much for joining us on Democracy Now! Can you talk about the situation in the Bahamas now and what you’re calling for in terms of Bahamians seeking refuge in the United States?

REP. SHEVRIN JONES: Thank you so much, and thank you all for bringing light to this very important humanitarian issue. Currently now, within the Bahamas, they are still in search-and-rescue mode. But while being in search-and-rescue mode, there are individuals who are there who have lost everything, and they are just looking to get back on their feet. And so, what we have asked the Trump administration to do is if they can ease the requirements for individuals to come over to the States.

As you know and as you just reported, there have been individuals who were taken off of the ferry because they did not have the correct documentation. But to our understanding, it was not the federal government, but it was the company that made that action. But the company is now saying that the federal government did it. So, what we’re saying is, it doesn’t matter who did it; what we’re asking is that we all look at this as a humanitarian effort, and we make sure that we get these individuals to a place of safety, where their families are, until they can get back on their feet.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, what were the policies in terms of Bahamians coming to the U.S. previous to the hurricane? Did they need visas? Or what was the — or could they just easily come into the country?

REP. SHEVRIN JONES: Previously, individuals who were coming over from the Bahamas, all they would need was a valid passport and a clean criminal record. It is not until now where this administration is making it more difficult for those individuals to come over. And so, again, the only thing that individuals needed in past was a valid passport and a clean criminal record. And that was a letter that came from the Bahamian government police department.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And are you asking for the government to extend TPS, or temporary protected status, to Bahamians as a result of the disaster that has struck the islands?

REP. SHEVRIN JONES: As you know, TPS is usually given for those individuals who are already here in the States. And some of those individuals who are here in the States, they have been affected by this. And so, TPS should be granted for those individuals. But for those individuals who are still on the island, the hope is that we will allow them over here, pair them with their family or a sponsor, because there are individuals who desire to take in people from the Bahamas and allow them in their homes until they can get back on their feet.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you comment on what President Trump said about “very bad people” coming from the Bahamas?

REP. SHEVRIN JONES: Well, there are bad people in the United States. There are bad people in Miami. There are bad people in Florida. There are bad people all over. President Trump can create whatever narrative he wants, but the true reality is this. The true reality is that we have a humanitarian issue that’s on our hands, that’s dealing with our neighbors. Individuals just don’t vacation there; Bahamians practically helped build Miami — South Florida, to be exact. And so, being that the president of the United States is now saying that there are very bad people in the Bahamas and we should not allow those individuals to come here within the States, listen, we can deal with the bad people. The Bahamian government are dealing with those individuals who are considered bad people.

What we are asking is, those individuals who have family, who have children, the seniors, the medically needy, those individuals who need to come over here to the States to get back on their feet, those are the people who we are allowing to come over. But the president creating this narrative that there are bad people in the Bahamas who we do not want here in the States, truth is, I’m sorry, Mr. President, there are bad people here currently in our country right now. We cannot throw the baby out with the bathwater and consider everybody from the Bahamas bad people, because there are truly people who really just want to get back on their feet. And we should allow that to happen, and set the politics aside just for a moment, so we can get these individuals to a place of safety and help these individuals get back to some normalcy in their life.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Representative Jones, you have family in the Bahamas. How are they faring? And also, could you comment on — there have been several reports of conflicts between the Bahamian government and some of the aid groups in terms of how the aid is reaching those who are most in need?

REP. SHEVRIN JONES: Yes, thank God my family is — they’re doing well. We had one cousin who we could not get in contact with, who the search and rescue did find two days ago. And that’s my cousin Gibby. And he’s now waiting to go over to Nassau with my family.

As it pertains to the aid that’s actually reaching the individuals and the conflict that’s happening, right now the biggest thing is the Bahamian government and the U.S. Coast Guard having an understanding with each other in how this aid is supposed to reach the most needy individuals. But that also plays a role into how this humanitarian effort is currently happening and those people who are here in the States who are helping out. I know there are a lot of people who are wanting to help. There are a lot of people who are helping. But we have to make sure that we are working directly with Consul General Mackey and her office, and making sure that what we are sending out to the Bahamas, making sure that it gets into the hands of the right people. As it pertains to the conflict that’s happening over within the Bahamas between the Bahamian government and the Coast Guard and making sure that it’s being placed in the hands of the right people, it is my hope that we do not have these inward fights when it comes to making sure people are receiving this aid which is needed. The Bahamian government, they are accepting of the help that’s coming in from the U.S. government, but there has to be an organized movement to make sure that the people who are most needed — most in need, excuse me, making sure that they get the aid and receive the need that they need to get.

AMY GOODMAN: Republican Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott of your state visited the Bahamas last week and have written a letter urging the Trump administration to waive visa requirements for Bahamians fleeing the devastated island. The Florida lawmakers, both Republican, wrote, quote, “Perhaps one of the most basic yet meaningful steps our government can take immediately is to ensure that those who have lost everything, including family members in some instances, are provided the opportunity for shelter and reunification with family in the United States,” they said. Representative Shevrin Jones, Florida state lawmakers have also written a similar letter. Talk about the support you’ve received at the state and national level. Has the Trump administration responded directly to you? Are they speaking yet in one voice?

REP. SHEVRIN JONES: You know, that is a very good question, considering that Senator Rubio and Senator Scott and myself, we sit on very opposite sides of the aisle, especially on a lot of issues. But it is amazing of what has happened over the course of the last few days and how we have been able to join together. Senator Rubio and Senator Scott get it. They understand that Florida has a deep, deep connection with the Bahamian community. The response that they have given has been amazing. The response that my colleagues in the House have given is amazing. And I don’t want to leave out that Governor DeSantis did travel over to the Bahamas also to look at the damages.

The response that has come out of the White House is what we just spoke about in the beginning, to, rather than the president saying, “You know what? Senator Rubio and Senator Scott, you’re right: We need to allow those individuals who are medically needed, who are in need, are seniors, are children with families. We need to allow them over here, and let’s figure this out as we go,” instead of rhetoric and calling out that there are bad people within the country. So, the senators, they both have responded. And I believe that they are going to continue pushing. Senator Rubio tweeted out something yesterday to speak about him continuing to push the efforts to make sure that we can get these people to a place of safety. It is my hope that the White House understands the necessity of us making sure that our neighbors are taken care of. That is my hope, and that the president himself would look at this as a humanitarian effort and not look at this as a political push.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, we just have a minute, but what is your understanding of what’s happening to the Haitians who live in the Bahamas, especially Abaco Island? Apparently, the community where they live has been destroyed. Many of them had to escape to shelters. If you can talk about the Haitian community, in particular, in the Bahamas?

REP. SHEVRIN JONES: Absolutely. The Bahamian community and the Haitian community, all of those individuals who have been affected by the storm, no one should be exempt. Here’s the fact: Their lives have been destroyed. I don’t care where they’ve come from. They need help. They need our help. And we need to give it to them.

AMY GOODMAN: Shevrin Jones, we want to thank you so much for being with us.

REP. SHEVRIN JONES: Thank you for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: Democratic Florida state representative, Bahamian-American. When we come back, we’ll go to Mexico, where thousands of African migrants are essentially stranded after being blocked from traveling north to the United States and Canada. Stay with us.



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