UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The foreign minister of the Bahamas said Tuesday his country is determined to control illegal immigration, saying that allowing it to balloon could be a "recipe for civil strife."
Frederick Mitchell struck a tough tone during his speech at the U.N. General Assembly, less than two weeks after his government announced a measure making it harder for migrants to work in the island chain.
The Caribbean country is considering additional restrictions as part of a plan that appears mostly aimed at large numbers of Haitians who have settled there.
Mitchell said controlling illegal immigration in the Bahamas is "central to our survivability as a country, central to our national identity and central to our national security," he said.
"We have only to see today how it drains our financial resources, and we do not have to look far to see how unchecked immigration in other countries has been a recipe for civil strife within their borders.
"We do not intend for that to happen to us," Mitchell said.
Haitians have long used the Bahamas as both a transit point to reach the United States and as a place to settle, often taking low-wage jobs. The International Organization for Migration estimates that between 20,000 and 50,000 Haitians are in the Bahamas illegally.
Mitchell said the Bahamas has purchased a new fleet of vessels to support its efforts to stop the flow of migrants to the country.
Under the measure, already in effect, no work permits will be issued to anyone who does not have legal status in the Bahamas, and anyone who applies without legal status will be arrested and deported.
The Cabinet also is considering measures that include a permanent ban on giving legal status to anyone ever deported from the Bahamas. Other proposed restrictions include a requirement that Haitians seeking work permits could be required to pay additional processing fees and apply in person at the Bahamas Embassy in Port-au-Prince.