Unclear requirements Bahamians may face to enter US
Published 7:54 PM EDT Sep 10, 2019
WASHINGTON — The acting director of US Customs and Border protection said Tuesday that the situations of Bahamians looking to come to the United States after Hurricane Dorian devastated their country will be reviewed on a “case-by-case basis.”
But, over the past few days, two top federal officials have offered conflicting statements regarding Bahamians seeking refuge in the U.S. and the documentation they may be required to have.
Appearing on CNN Tuesday morning, Mark Morgan, the acting CBP commissioner, said “Those individuals who do make it to the United States that don’t have travel documents … we’re going to apply discretion on a case-by-case basis. We’re not going to deny somebody solely because they don’t have travel documents,” adding that the U.S. doesn’t want to see a “mass exodus.”
Morgan’s comments came after President Donald Trump told reporters outside the White House on Monday that anyone seeking refuge in the wake of the Hurricane Dorian “needs totally proper documentation.” And Trump expressed particular concern about “people going to the Bahamas who weren’t supposed to be there.”
“I don’t want to allow people that weren’t supposed to be in the Bahamas to come into the United States, including some very bad people and some very bad gang members and some very, very bad drug dealers,” he added, according to media reports.
More: Whoopi Goldberg slams Trump for labeling some Bahamian refugees ‘gang members’
However, earlier Monday, Morgan had said, “If your life is in jeopardy and you’re in the Bahamas and you want to get to the United States, you’re going to be allowed to come to the United States, whether you have travel documents or not.”
The situation was enough to lead one of Florida’s senators to ask the administration for clarification Monday and to ask Trump to ease visa requirements.
And over the weekend, a ferry boat operator in the Bahamas ordered 100+ evacuees off the boat who didn’t have visas to enter the U.S. in hand.
More: Hundreds of Bahamian refugees kicked off US-bound ferry over visa confusion
The ferry was set to travel from Freeport, in the Bahamas, to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, when the announcement was made over a loudspeaker.
“Please, all passengers that don’t have a U.S. visa, please proceed to disembark,” a crew member is heard saying over the boat’s intercom.
CBP has said the ferry operator did not properly coordinate the evacuation ahead of time.
CBP spokesman Michael Silva reportedly said, “We’re there to facilitate and accommodate that process in an orderly fashion, according to regulation and protocol. However, Balearia did not do that. We asked them to coordinate ahead of time. They did not do that.”
Sen. Rick Scott, R- Fla., urged Customs and Border Protection on Monday to clarify the rules and asked Trump to ease visa requirements.
“As hundreds of thousands of Bahamians seek refuge or start to rebuild after Hurricane Dorian, we cannot have the kind of confusion that occurred last night in Freeport,” Scott said.
Last week, both Florida senators, Marco Rubio and Scott, penned a letter to the president, asking the administration to make it easier for Bahamians to seek shelter in the United States by waiving certain visa requirements for Bahamian citizens with relatives living in the United States.
More: Florida senators call for help for the Bahamas after Hurricane Dorian devastates country
Hurricane Dorian has left at least 50 people dead in the Bahamas, according to the government’s official death toll on Tuesday, with the number expected to greatly increase.
According to the UN, 70,000 people have been left homeless in the country because of the hurricane.