MPs approve Immigration Bill
Immigration legislation to “protect Bermuda for Bermudians” was passed in the House of Assembly last night despite vocal opposition.
The new laws give the Bermuda Immigration and Protection Act priority over the Human Rights Act.
Walton Brown, the Minister of Home Affairs, said the Bill would protect Bermuda for Bermudians but the Opposition expressed concerns about the lack of consultation. The Bill was introduced after a May 2014 Supreme Court ruling that enabled certain
holders of a permanent resident’s certificate to apply for status.
Mr Brown said the intention of the Bill was to “restore the primacy the [Bermuda Immigration and Protection] Act once enjoyed” and ensure that “Bermudians come first”.
He told the House that Bermudians continued to be the most economically disadvantaged in terms of unemployment, salary, and total jobs filled, according to statistics in the Labour Force Survey 2015.
“If the court ruling prevails, hundreds could work here without the minister’s permission,” he said.
“It is for governments to pass laws not the courts. The court’s job is to interpret law. Only a weak government lets the courts decide.”
On a point of order, Trevor Moniz took issue with Mr Brown’s assertion that other countries operated with the same restrictions as the Bermuda Immigration and Protection Act. “The European Convention gives rights through citizenship — it is standard practice,” he said.
But Mr Brown highlighted that there were special considerations for smaller countries and that Britain was currently trying to decide its position on immigration control as part of the Brexit process.
Mr Moniz accused Mr Brown of lack of “broad consultation” over the Bill, which Mr Brown has consistently said was imperative for comprehensive immigration reform.
He said he believed that the court ruling had prompted a “panicked” tabling of the Bill and that if he truly wanted broad consultation he should wait for the Immigration Working Group, which Mr Brown had originally been a part of, to deliver its findings on October 31.
Mr Brown said he had consulted with the Human Rights Commission but Mr Moniz maintained that was not considered “broad consultation”.
Mr Brown told the House that he had been an advocate for human rights for more than 30 years and defended his party’s stance on human rights, making the point that it was the Progressive Labour Party that had extended rights to permanent residents in the first place.
Mr Moniz joked that Mr Brown “deserved a little statue” for his show of “self righteousness”.
“We are talking about people who were born here, we’re not talking about strangers,” Mr Moniz said.
Mr Brown estimated that it might take a year for full reform to take place but due to “harrowing stories of people marginalised and people in limbo” he would deal with the issue of PRC holders and status as a matter of urgency, while the reforms would come later.
Mr Brown also said it was important to distinguish between human rights and privilege.
During the debate Michael Scott, PLP backbencher, said the move was of public importance, calling it a response to “judicial activism”.
He said: “It’s a matter of public importance. It’s a matter that’s essential.”
Meanwhile, Walter Roban, Deputy Premier, said that legal actions had “pulled the rug” out from under laws protecting Bermudians.
“The protections that underpin the law have been weakened and the sense of stability and security is at risk,” Mr Roban said.
“We have to bring stability to the current situation so we can bring about the rational change.
However, Patricia Gordon-Pamplin, Opposition Leader, said that the Government’s handling of the Bill had caused public anxiety.
She called on the Government to hold the Bill until the end of the month so consultation could take place.
Ms Gordon-Pamplin said: “I think there’s nothing wrong with ensuring that you are not using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.”
Grant Gibbons supported the intention of the Bill.
He said: “There probably is mischief that needs to be addressed but there may be a more targeted approach rather than sweeping aside the Human Rights Act.”
However, David Burt, the Premier, said the OBA objected to the Bill because it was the death of Pathways to Status.
“What this Bill represents to them is the end of their dream of Pathways to Status through the back door,” Mr Burt said. “That’s what they are trying to do.”
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