“When you point a finger at someone, there are three more pointing back at you.” – Unknown
In early January 2018, whilst discussing under what conditions the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for immigrants from El Salvador, Haiti, and Honduras might be renewed, the US president stated he would not want citizens from these “sh*thole” countries to come to the US.
The TPS grants persons leaving certain crises in specific countries, who have entered the US without any permanent legal status, the right to be temporarily protected from prosecution on the basis of illegal residency. It also allows these persons to live and work in the US legally for a limited time.
In a statement, the Caribbean’s regional bloc – CARICOM – condemned Trump’s statement, referring to it as “unenlightened” and a perpetuation of the negative narrative cast over Haiti.
False Unity in the Caribbean
Following President Trump’s statement, Caribbean people were understandably incensed. Social media in the region was ready to wage an online war of words against the racist remarks.
However, the Caribbean is not the epitome of perfection regarding immigration.
The region is fraught with its own immigration issues, most of which involve Caribbean people convulsing at the thought of other Caribbean people joining their society.
Caribbean Intra-immigration woes
In 2017, when the worst hurricane season ever recorded ravaged their Caribbean neighbours, many nationals in Trinidad and Tobago protested the government’s decision to offer the country as a place of refuge for the displaced Dominicans.
According to local newspaper Montserrat Reporter, in early 2017, the Jamaican Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Minister, Kamina Johnson Smith, told the Jamaican Senate that 300 Jamaican nationals were deported from Trinidad and Tobago and, as at the end of the first quarter of 2016, more than 100 were denied entry into the country.
In September 2017, the Dominican Republic expelled or refused entry to more than 9,000 Haitians. October 2017 saw the Prime Minister of The Bahamas threaten to deport tens of thousands of Haitians residing in “irregular situations.”
President Trump, Caribbean Style?
Similar to Trump’s choice to blame immigrants for crime in the US, Caribbean governments have criminalised migrants from other Caribbean countries and deported them en masse because of claims that they were engaged in criminal activities.
In 2017, the Jamaica Observer reported that several nationals were detained during combined anti-crime exercise in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago.
The majority of migrants originate from the smaller member states of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS). Their aim is to create a better life for themselves and contribute positively to their new homes.
As such, criminalising migrants is a convenient and lazy political excuse for deportation. The Caribbean needs improved migration policies and processes to encourage regularised migration for the region’s citizens.
The Caribbean should recognise this and deal with its immigration laws and own culture of nationalism and protectionism against other countries in the region.
The CARICOM Single Market Economy
Of particular interest is the role of the CARICOM Single Market Economy (CSME), established in 1989 by the Heads of Government of CARICOM through the Grand Anse Declaration.
The CSME seeks to facilitate deeper relations among Caribbean countries, promote their integration process and strengthen the Caribbean Community in all its dimensions.
Article 45 of the revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, that established and included the CSME, declares that “Member States commit themselves to the goal of the free movement of their nationals within the Community.”
Yet it clearly still has a long way to go in protecting all Caribbean people moving between Caribbean countries.
A woman vs Barbados
Recall the popular case of Myrie vs Barbados, in which Jamaican Shanique Myrie was subject to a cavity search, locked up in an unsanitary cell and deported from Barbados in 2011.
As a law-abiding citizen of a CARICOM country, Myrie was meant to be protected by the aforementioned Article 45. Instead, the treatment she endured at the hands of Barbadian immigration officers ran contrary to the rules of the revised Treaty of Chaguaramas.
The Caribbean Court of Justice ruled that the state of Barbados breached the her right of entry as a CARICOM national.
The implications of such treatment of Caribbean persons within the Caribbean go far beyond Ms. Myrie’s personal situation and affects us all as CARICOM nationals. The actions or inactions of member states highlight the obstacles that need to be overcome if the Caribbean is to make progress to achieve genuine single market economy status.
The treatment of Haitians in the region
Despite Caribbean leaders and activists pointing out how Trump’s statement was a perpetuation of the negative narrative over Haiti, the treatment of Haitians in the region has not been much different.
Though Haiti is a full member of CARICOM, Haitians still require a tourist visa to visit many of the islands. Citizens of other CARICOM countries, however, are free to travel throughout the Caribbean for up to 3 months and in some cases up to 6 months visa-free.
Haiti’s relationship with their neighbour Dominican Republic is putrefied because of racism and prejudice.
This, however, did not prevent the Prime Minister of Jamaica, whose country is also a full member of CARICOM, from conferring the Order of Merit to the President of the Dominican Republic in November 2017, as Guyanese Stabroek News reported.
This same President defended the rendering of thousands of Haitian-descended and Dominican-born persons stateless and has done little to encourage free movement between his country and Haiti. Furthermore, the Dominican Republic is neither a full or associate member of CARICOM.
CARICOM itself has issued no statement on the matter.
Time for True Caribbean Unity
Caribbean people need to do some introspection to regard itself as one Caribbean.
Reluctance to engage in sustained programmes to educate the public of the CSME is rooted in governments’ fear of dealing with the free movement of people.
Until CARICOM countries boldly increase awareness and loosen the noose of immigration policies in the region, the tangible benefits of freedom of movement and intra-regional trade for the economic development of the countries will remain buried.
While we unified to condemn President Trump’s vitriolic language, what are we doing to change the negative image we have of our own selves?
Individually, Caribbean countries may be small island states, but together the region becomes stronger.
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