The US Promised Entry To Bahamians Without Visas Following Hurricane Dorian Then Changed Their Mind
Hurricane Dorian landed in the Bahamas islands as a Category 5 storm with winds of 200 mph, leaving at least 44 people dead and 70,000 Bahamians homeless. Rescue workers are still searching for bodies and survivors, nearly a week after the storm finally departed the island. Thousands of survivors are still living in government buildings and churches with no access to water or power after their homes were leveled by the storm. For many Bahamians, there’s nowhere to go.
For the last few days, Florida officials have called on Trump to waive visa requirements for Hurricane Dorian survivors in the Bahamas. Still, the Baleària Caribbean ferry was forced to remove 100 Bahamians from its ship because they didn’t have U.S. visas, per U.S. Customs and Border Patrol’s (CBP) regulations.
CBP told Baleària that the ferry would have to detour to Nassau to get U.S. visas for the refugees before arriving in Florida.
Instead, the ferry company forced more than 100 Bahamians off the ship, leaving them stranded on an island with nowhere else to go. Michael Silva, a spokesperson for CBP, blamed the ferry company. “It breaks my heart because it’s like when you raise somebody’s hopes and then you pop the balloon… That, in my opinion, is what Baleària did,” Silva told Newsweek. “It raised the expectations of these poor people who have been through an unimaginable situation with the hurricane…They raised their expectations only to then leave them terribly disappointed.”
Now, CBP is changing its story, saying they would have allowed the Bahamians to arrive at a U.S. port and arrange visas on site.
“We would have definitely worked with this transportation company or any other transportation company to…facilitate this process,” Silva told Newsweek. “CBP is not denying or discouraging evacuation efforts and we empathize with the plight of the Bahamian people.” “They were not ordered off the boat by any government entity,” another CBP official told reporter Brian Entin. “If those folks did stay on the boat and arrived, we would have processed them.” For all that Silva said on behalf of CBP, he could not offer a “blanket statement” on whether all Bahamians would be allowed entry to the U.S., making for a confusing process for both refugees and ferry companies.
More than 1,200 Hurricane Dorian survivors arrived in the Port of Palm Beach on Saturday alone.
The Grand Celebration cruise ship conducted a rescue operation, completely free of charge to the refugees who climbed aboard. According to CBP, the company had coordinated with the U.S. government a few days in advance, which is what allowed CBP to ensure everyone would be “properly documented.” Officials told media outlets that additional personnel were sent to Miami to assist in processing the Bahamian refugees. According to reports, CBP claims to have organized with the government and non-profits to ensure that people were at the port to help with housing and medical needs of the people forced from their island after the horrific hurricane.
CBP continues to discredit the company because it charged a ferry fee.
According to WSVN Miami reporter, Brian Entin, who was aboard the Baleària, “They say they were told it was ok to accept Bahamian evacuees with passport and copy of police record. They boarded the boat. Then when they sent manifest to US Customs and Border Patrol — they were told those without visas would not be accepted.”
Those Bahamians who have a police record and arrive in the U.S. will immediately be detained by ICE.
CBP Commissioner Mark Morgan told reporters that refugees will be allowed to stay in the U.S. for as long as the Bahamas remains unsafe for them to return to. He also added that, under existing immigration laws, Bahamians with criminal histories be entered into deportation proceedings, but that given the circumstances, they will be detained with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
President Trump told reporters that the Bahamas has “some very bad people,” and that CBP must “be very careful” about allowing Bahamians entry.
For Trump, the most important thing in this disastrous situation is that “everybody needs totally proper documentation.” All this to say, ships performing rescue missions or operating, as usual, are still left unclear on CBP protocol moving forward.