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Campaigners oppose immigration act

Home affairs minister Walton Brown (File photograph)

A group campaigning on immigration reform have joined the call to withdraw planned legislative amendments.

The “Supporting Fair Immigration Reform” Facebook group expressed its concern that human rights would be undermined by the Government’s proposed Bermuda Immigration and Protection Amendment (No. 2) Act.

It said in a statement: “We support the Human Rights Commission’s call for the Bill to be withdrawn.

“The Bill would remove the supremacy of the Human Rights Act when it comes to immigration legislation.

“In other words, the courts are going to be told to ignore anti-discrimination provisions in any future immigration challenges.”

The proposed changes would mean immigration regulations would be lawful even if they contradicted the Human Rights Act.

Home affairs minister Walton Brown has said the amendments are designed to protect Bermudians and block court challenges over Bermuda status from non-Bermudians who can argue that immigration law has discriminated against them based on their country of origin.

The Facebook group noted the Human Rights Act protects all residents in Bermuda in the fields of employment, accommodation and services from discrimination based on:

• race, place of origin, colour, or ethnic or national origins;

• sex or sexual orientation;

• marital status;

• disability;

• family status;

• religion or beliefs or political opinions;

• criminal record, except where there are valid reasons relevant to the nature of the particular offence for which he is convicted that would justify the difference in treatment.

It continued: “This has real consequences for many of our members and supporters.

“People who were born or who have become registered as British Overseas Territories Citizens or Bermuda passport holders will no longer be able to work.

“Many of these people are the family and friends of Bermudians who have no other way of getting protection in Bermuda — which, for many, is the only community they have ever known. Some may ultimately be removed from Bermuda.

“The Bill would have the unfortunate effect of returning Bermuda to a bizarre legal position where BOTCs who are naturalised, sometimes, after as little as three years, have very broad protections in law to live and work in Bermuda, whereas BOTCs born in Bermuda and who have lived here their entire lives, have nothing. The Court of Appeal already described this anomaly as ‘unfortunate’.

“The Bill will also affect many Bermudians directly. Unmarried Bermudians in same sex relationships will no longer have protections for their non-Bermudian partner. Bermudian women married to non-Bermudians will receive fewer protections in law than Bermudian men who are similarly married.

“We also believe that the Bill would put Bermuda in direct breach of its international legal obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights and various Human Rights Treaties under the United Nations, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

“It is clear that long established common law traditions, such as the protection against being deprived of rights without due process of law, are under threat.”

The group said the legislation should not be pursued in advance of Mr Brown’s programme of comprehensive immigration reform.

“It seems odd that he would want to pursue this piece in isolation, especially as there are wide-ranging ramifications,” it stated.

“Quite apart from all this, Bermudians who care about human rights should be concerned when protections in law are watered down.

“It may primarily just be ‘foreigners today, but it could be any other group tomorrow. What’s most unfortunate is that it appears this Bill was tabled in the House of Assembly with very little consultation or collaboration.

“We agree wholeheartedly with the need to protect Bermuda for Bermudians. However, as we have always said, this should extend to persons who are thoroughly Bermudian in their hearts and who know no other home than Bermuda, but for whom the law has failed to make provision. “We once again implore and urge the Government to withdraw this unfortunate Bill and to allow its comprehensive immigration reform process to unfold.”

Mr Brown has argued that the proposed amendments do not weaken human rights legislation, but clarify what has been law and policy “for decades”.