Rescue Efforts, Immigration Implications in Dorian Aftermath
Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is directly involved in Hurricane Dorian rescue efforts. So far the agency’s Air and Marine Operations (AMO) has airlifted over 80 people, including citizens of the Bahamas and citizens of the U.S., from the ravaged Abaco Island and Grand Bahama to Nassau for medical treatment and shelter. CBP is also processing evacuees arriving by ship in West Palm Beach, Florida. On September 7, 2019, they processed the first arrivals — over 1,400 passengers who sailed on the Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line’s Grand Celebration ship. The ship arrived in the Islands with emergency supplies and returned with passengers – 539 were U.S. citizens or Green Card holders. CBP quickly processed the evacuees. However, their arrival was slowed because the cruise line had to spend close to a day vetting documentation before leaving for the U.S.
Senators Marko Rubio (R-FL) and Rick Scott (R-FL) have asked President Donald Trump to waive visa requirements for Bahamians seeking shelter in the U.S. – many of whom have close ties to the United States – especially Florida.
Bahamians generally can enter the United States for short term tourism or business without visas if they are travelling on a flight that departs from a U.S. Pre-clearance station in Nassau or Freeport and:
Possess a valid passport or Bahamian Travel Document;
Have no criminal record nor other legal ineligibility; and
Possess a police certificate issued within the prior six months.
In the aftermath of Dorian, many Bahamians no longer have and cannot access the needed documentation.
Then there are Bahamians who are currently in the United States. Senator Scott, who advocated for TPS for Venezuelans, said at a news conference that TPS was not the instant solution but that it was something he would look at once the immediate humanitarian disaster is resolved. The Administration does not tend to favor TPS and has recently been eliminating that protected status for many countries.
The Bahamian community in Florida, which has been in the Miami area since before Miami was incorporated in 1896, is rallying to provide aid and relief to their friends and family on the Islands including working with its representatives to influence the Trump Administration to waive requirements for Bahamians who want to shelter with family in the United States.
There will likely be additional requests for waivers regarding student visas. Hampton University, an HBCU in Virginia, has invited students from the University of Bahamas to attend classes this fall – tuition free.