Bermuda’s Opposition Progressive Labour Party has warned of further division and conflict on the island unless a bipartisan, consensus-building approach is taken on immigration reform.
But the warning went unheeded by the governing One Bermuda Alliance which rejected a PLP bid to set up a parliamentary committee to make reform proposals.
Instead, the OBA proposed that parliament “take note of immigration policy and the need to consider continuing reform of such policy.”
Shadow Immigration Minister Walton Brown asked parliament on Friday to set up a joint select committee to “develop a set of proposals for substantial reform of immigration policy” warning that anything less than a consensus approach would further divide the country.
His committee would have required a two-thirds majority support of its proposals to ensure cross partisan cooperation.
I would like to re-emphasise the importance of consensus-building on this issue. We can debate and have different views on many other issues. But if we don’t get it right on this, we will divide this country,” Brown said.
There is a growing level of discontent – some would say antipathy – being developed. But we need to get it right, Mr Speaker.
If we want our country to be strong, if we want to make Bermudians feel valued and respected in their own country, if we want to recognise that there are those that have lived here for long periods of time and have no rights at all and that needs to be addressed, then we need to develop a consensus approach.
Anything less than consensus is going to be inappropriate and not in the best interests of this country.
I would encourage the government to support this Joint Select Committee. I would encourage them to commit to a consensus-building approach and do it not for party but for country.
The Government took the view that having a Joint Select Committee propose immigration policy would be tantamount to usurping the role of Cabinet.
The PLP motion, said Attorney General Trevor Moniz “effectively usurps the rights of Cabinet and the Government.
The making of ministerial policy is not something which will be vested in the House of Assembly or otherwise. We recognise his concern with immigration policy and the desire to reform such policy but we believe that he and the House must recognise that the people of Bermuda have chosen a new Government since December of 2012. And that new Government must be given the opportunity to follow the mandate that it was given to sort out the economy of Bermuda which we found in a parlous state when elected.
Much of the time allotted for debating the PLP’s motion was taken up in increasingly tense discussion over parliamentary procedure before the PLP walked out of parliament (see story here).
“As the Government we believe that we should be making decisions after collaborating with people,” Premier Michael Dunkley told Politica shortly after the abrupt ending of the parliamentary sitting on Friday night.
We thought our motion was more appropriate based on the immigration reform that’s required. We were comfortable with the change and as we’re the Government we want to lead and we will amend the motion accordingly so we can lead. It’s unfortunate that the Opposition didn’t accept that. And I don’t think it sits very well if they walk out of the debate.”
Asked why the Government would object to a joint select committee as requested by the PLP, the Premier said: “We have expressed very clearly the need for immigration reform in Bermuda and we’re gonna move on that path to reform.”
In introducing his motion, Brown explained that the island’s body of immigration laws and policies – dating back to the 1950s and altered in a “piecemeal” fashion since then, was now obsolete.
He outlined how ruling elites in the 1960s used immigration policy as a tool for political manipulation by granting British citizens the right to vote after three years residency in Bermuda. And, from 1978 until 1989, the Bermuda Government had a policy of granting status on a discretionary basis to up to 40 individuals annually.
Brown went on to say that while the British Government changed its own rules on citizenship to suit its national interests – first removing the right to citizenship from its colonial subjects and then restoring it – Bermuda “continued to engage in piecemeal reform regarding our own citizenship rights and immigration policy.”
In 1994, a small number of people who were deemed to have a strong connection to Bermuda – those with at least one Bermudian parent or who had been married to a Bermudian for at least ten years – were allowed to qualify for Bermuda status.
But while that corrected an injustice, the island still had a number of people who had been long term residents of Bermuda and the PLP Government created the Permanent Resident Certificate category, said Brown.
Brown admitted that the PRC category was a “piecemeal” and “interim” measure which was intended to give long term residents some security while drawing the line on future status grants.
The position was that there would be no future consideration of Bermuda status on a discretionary basis until Bermuda comes to a decision on its constitutional position.”
But in 2012, the Governor took the view that PRC holders were entitled to be deemed to belong to Bermuda and could apply for status. The matter was subsequently challenged in Supreme Court which upheld that view opening the way for 1,400 people to apply for and receive Bermuda status, Brown noted.
What you have was a determination by a court of an important new aspect of immigration policy,” he told his parliamentary colleagues.
I don’t know any government that wishes to have a policy as important as immigration policy to be determined by the courts.”
It’s ludicrous for a legislator to say that’s the law and you’ve got to respect the law – because we make laws and we should make laws that we believe are in the best long term interest of the people of the country.”
The OBA government’s decision not to appeal the ruling of the Supreme Court over the rights of PRC holders to status had led some to suspect its motives, said Brown.
I’m not here to question motives. I’m here to get a Joint Select Committee in place so we can properly come up with a coherent set of policies that we can have consensus around.”
Brown added, however, that the PRC issue was just one of a “litany of issues” that needs resolving.
- determining whether there should be a policy of discretionary status grants in the future.
- whether citizens of sovereign nations should have the right to decide whether or not Bermuda becomes a sovereign state.
- whether there should be future grants of PRCs
- number of future grants of status
Brown noted that the only pathway to PRC status is through the provisions of the “problematic” Job Makers Act which is targeted at executives of international businesses, most of which are white males.
It’s racist, it’s sexist and it is contrary to the constitution,” he said.
The less we talk, the less we engage in proper dialogue, the greater the suspicion, the greater the question of motives. And so we need to address this legislation. A Joint Select Committee is the appropriate vehicle to do this.”
Political divisiveness over immigration “creates unnecessary conflict at a time when I think we want to have a much greater level of cohesion in this country.”
Last year, thousands of people demonstrated their displeasure when Home Affairs Minister Michael Fahy announced that the Government would not appeal the Supreme Court PRC ruling.
The Attorney General closed off the debate after the PLP walkout and his motion to amend Brown’s motion was approved.
What we are trying to do is somewhat quite different from what [Brown] spoke of. We’re trying to open up this community and make it a welcoming place for people to come in and to set up businesses and to create employment. And if we don’t do that, we will all fail and who will suffer the most if we all fail? It will be the average Bermudian who will suffer the most. So what he doesn’t recognise is the need to build the economy.
He said he believed his administration had achieved the right balance despite “some controversy”.
This article belongs to Politica ! The original article can be found here: Bermuda Opposition issues stark warning on Immigration
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