PLP will fight Status for PRCs loophole
The Progressive Labour Party has pledged to fight to close a legal loophole that enables Permanent Residency Certificate holders to be granted Bermudian status, claiming that “Bermudians have to come first in their own country”.
And at a public forum last night, the Opposition also questioned how Chief Justice Ian Kawaley was able to “create” a policy that “does not reflect the expressed intent of the political leadership of the country”.
The issue of whether PRC holders can be granted Bermudian status made headlines last month when Mr Justice Kawaley upheld an earlier ruling by the independent Immigration Appeal Tribunal, which directed the Ministry of Home Affairs to grant applications for Bermuda status by two long-standing PRC holders.
Government has appealed that decision, claiming that “unique circumstance” had been unintentionally created when the former PLP Government amended Immigration laws.
But Government has since voted against legislation tabled by the Opposition to close the loophole, claiming it was premature.
Shadow Immigration Minister Walton Brown kicked off last night's discussion at the Devonshire Recreation Club with a history lesson, saying that the Island's immigration policy had frequently been “manipulated for political purposes” in the past.
“The Chief Justice has now created a new policy which goes against Government policy,” Mr Brown told an audience of around 250 people, adding that immigration laws should not be decided “by an interpretation from a judge”.
“The PLP has brought forward an amendment to remove the section that provides a path to status.
“We have a situation where there are 1,300 PRC holders, 1,100 spouses and up to 2,000 children who would be able to apply for status.
“Everyone has rights but no one's rights are absolute and the rights of PRC holders needs to be assessed.
“We want a comprehensive review of immigration policy. We must begin a review to identify an holistic approach because what we have now is piecemeal.”
When one audience member suggested a march on Government House “to protect ourselves and show that we are not satisfied with the Government”, Mr Brown replied that last night's meeting was just “the first stage in developing a campaign” to change the law.
“I don't want anyone to think that the PLP is here to have talks — talks must lead to action,” he said.
“We are committed to an agenda. We can begin the process by passing information on to you to mobilise the people and we may decide on other meetings in the future.
“This is just the first step, an initial step in what will be a focused campaign to achieve a clear objective.
“Bermudians have to come first in their own country and we shouldn't apologise for that. There's nothing wrong with protecting born-Bermudians. It is what we should do.
Mr Brown was joined on the panel by Shadow Attorney General Michael Scott, Shadow Human Affairs Minister Rolfe Commissiong, and 18-year-old Eron Hill.
Mr Scott began his address by claiming that Government had failed to create jobs and “sort out the economy”.
He went on to say that although the Chief Justice's interpretation of the law may have been “legally sound”, it had created a loophole that needed to be addressed by law makers.
“This is a prime opportunity for legislators to close the gap,” he said, adding that Government's decision not to support the Opposition amendment demonstrated “their desire to create more citizens”.
Mr Commissiong argued that the value of Bermudian birthrights had been cheapened by successive administrations, and that the failure of the Government to act now “will unleash another cycle similar to previous eras that will only further marginalise native Bermudians”.
“We must protect Bermudian birthrights, invest in people and not treat them as surplus to requirements,” he said.
Mr Hill said that Bermudians “should come first in their own country”, but added that he “empathised” with PRC holders who also deserved rights.
“It was the PLP who ensured that they had some rights,” he pointed.
He said that, if the current law was allowed to remain, more status Bermudians would be in competition with born Bermudians for such things as student scholarships and property, which in turn would create “a social divide”.
“I do not believe there is one solution,” Mr Hill said. “We need to suspend the process of applications, assess the situation and allow the legislature to do what it was elected to do.
“The time to stand up for the people of Bermuda and their birthright is now.”