Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Immigration Matters: Two Opposing Views

This past Sunday, The Advocate published a long article by Lindsay Holder, entitled "Immigration Blues in CARICOM". This contribution has provoked literally a wide range of discussion on the topic of immigration in Barbados, pushed harder by the government's recent revision to the amnesty for illegal immigrants from other CARICOM countries. 

But Mr. Holder is not having things all his own way, and George Brathwaite (who recently posted on this site his views on how the language used can shape the discussion on immigration, see previous post) has also gone on record again with his rebuttal. This is produced below.
By George C. Brathwaite

I do not intend to be lengthy in this critique to Mr. Holder’s contribution. I am well aware that each of us brings our biases to any project. I also believe that one ought to be sufficiently reflexive and admit to pertinent antecedents that may have an impact on the ways in which arguments are framed, analysed, and disseminated. My position is that of a Caribbean researcher who has been widely influenced by the shapers of postcolonial discourses and by the architects of Caribbean regional integration. Moreover, I have been exposed to a way of life and a thinking that suggests I should love my neighbour as I love myself.

A meandering diatribe that was published in the Sunday Advocate of 14 June 2009, and continued in the Monday edition of the Advocate and which is authored by Lindsay Holder served little in clearing away misunderstandings on ‘immigration policies and the status of immigrants’, if to do so was his primary intent. In this lengthy polemic, Mr. Holder appears more to be attempting to resolve his personal sentiments and advance his patriotic stance in favour of Barbados, than examine the “current issues that provoke discussion,” or provide a basis for managed migration. With all of the many complexities that surround the issue of immigration and more particularly, Barbados’ response to ‘unacceptably high’ numbers of undocumented CARICOM immigrants, Mr. Holder proceeded to exhibit a forlorn dismissal of facts and empirical data.

Surely any well-reasoned analysis would at least make an attempt to provide relevant statistical data that can substantiate arguments being advanced. Mr. Holder prefers to follow the position of the Government of Barbados by relying on “casual observation” on which to determine that “the level of undocumented immigration is unacceptably high.” The sentiments in that statement alone appear to be sullied by bigotry: even if one could make a distinction based on race or ethnicity, how does one come to the conclusion that persons observed at any one point in time and place are undocumented CARICOM immigrants? Isn’t there an ‘Indo-population’ in Barbados originating from Trinidad and Tobago and also from the Asian continent?

It is problematic that Mr. Holder commenced his arguments on the basis that governments make a distinct policy direction by either opting for ‘more liberal immigration policies’ or ‘less liberal policies’. While I do agree to some extent that there has been an identifiable trend that liberal democracies have expanded their rules giving liberal expression to the political and social inclusion of migrants, I will contend that Holder’s starting point is myopic. It is misleading since there are other coexistent requirements to be considered besides the extent to which liberality can be raised as the fundamental principle for states making accommodation for the entry of migrants into their economies.

Mr. Holder in a dichotomous manner, goes on to suggest that by applying an ‘optimal approach’ to matters of immigration policies, the Government of Barbados would in fact be basing such policies on “economic realities as well as some social considerations.” I believe that Mr. Holder’s interesting but ungrounded starting points have turned a blind eye to legal, moral, and ethical considerations. Barbados is a sovereign state, and it has voluntarily become a signatory to several international conventions and/or bilateral and multilateral arrangements (i.e. CARICOM; UN; and the ILO among others). Certainly these must have a bearing when a country seeks to determine more or less liberal policies.

This brings me to a fundamental area of departure with Mr. Holder. In one of his several superficial arguments, Holder fails to acknowledge that Barbados’ dependence on migration (inward and outward) long preceded “the last 10 to 15 years … to satisfy the demand for labour” in the sectors he outlined. I grew up in an area of Barbados that is still today considered a major agricultural salvation for Barbados. I remember the many hundreds of persons that came annually to ‘cut canes’ in Barbados. Many of them remained here ‘undocumented’, and they brought in other family members along with friends via the underground nature of social networks.

Holder argues that “the upper limit to the number of immigrants that a country can sustain depends on the geographical size of the country,” and I counter that it is as big a myth as Holder’s connected assertion that “immigration benefits countries that are under-populated, have ageing populations, or that have labour shortages in some economic sectors.” Surely these cannot be the over-riding criteria upon which immigration policies are fashioned, and neither can these be the sole considerations when a country seeks to adhere to international conventions that encourage the rights and dignity of the human being regardless of status. Moreover, and according to many of the multilateral institutions, “immigration benefits as well as affects all countries” some more than others.

Perhaps the greatest irony in Mr. Holder’s submission rests upon a dichotomous understanding as it relates to the history of CARICOM, the spirit of CARICOM, and Barbados’ leadership and participation in CARICOM. Regretfully, Holder posits that Barbados is “being painted as the main villain impeding the implementation of freedom of movement for CARICOM nationals,” when he knows full well as he did indicate that “Barbados has fully complied with the existing freedom of movement provisions of the CSME Treaty.” In attempting to raise his proud boast of Barbados (for which I also share), Holder conflates the issues of freedom of movement with unregulated immigration; unregulated migration is not a requirement under the RTC.

The RTC at Article 45 does speak to the ambition that “Member States commit themselves to the goal of free movement of their nationals within the Community,” and this is in keeping with an underlying premise that there will be further momentum to “enlarge, as appropriate, the classes of persons entitled to move and work freely in the Community” (Article 46 (a)). In essence, the RTC has set the framework for a spirit of cross-border and functional cooperation with the understanding by CARICOM Member States that there will be a resolve to “establish conditions which would facilitate access by their nationals to the collective resources of the Region on a non-discriminatory basis.” If Mr. Holder accepts and understands the intent and meaning of the RTC, he therefore cannot surmise that the current amnesty offered through the discretion of Barbados’ Prime Minister is ‘non-discriminatory’. The amnesty, in policy and practice, specifically targets ‘undocumented CARICOM immigrants’.

Further irony is illustrated by Mr. Holder, when he quotes Gordon K. Lewis in referring to “the unity, the shared sense of being West Indians.” Holder reflects Lewis’ position that speaks of the necessity to “meet particular problems in which all possess a felt concrete interest,” and yet Holder seems oblivious to Articles 187 through 189 of the RTC. Hence, I contend that the pre-emptive posture by the Prime Minister of Barbados could not be considered as keeping within the precincts of the RTC or as Holder suggests, Lewis’ mode of thinking for strengthening a CARICOM spirit.

Many of the circumstances and points outlined on the EU misrepresented the nature of EU immigration policies and the legal facilitation for free movement of people within the scope of that jurisdiction. Holder, writing to correct what he saw as misleading from Ricky Singh, states that “the right of freedom of movement” allow its citizens to “have the freedom to move within the EEA to work, study, or establish businesses.” What he does not say is that there are criteria in place and these are consistent with basic measures of human rights and justice. The most essential point though in regards of the EU’s model, that it legally recognises its membership in clear contrast to citizens of third countries.

Holder states that demands ought not to be made on Barbados to “accept the burdens associated with unacceptably high numbers of undocumented immigrants within its borders.” I agree that there are burdens associated with irregular migration, but I challenge the Government of Barbados and Mr. Holder to make public the statistical data that suggest the intensity of any burdens that now impact on Barbados. How can a government be seriously seeking to address a problem and there is not the co-requisite of supplying important data in respect of the challenges, burdens, and economic costs.

I ask Mr. Lindsay Holder four (4) questions:
1.How much information has the Barbados Government supplied in recognition that these categories of legality and illegality coexists within the domain of immigration debates?
2.Should the focus be on limiting those persons who may have normally qualified under the amnesty framework which has been in place as far back as 1995, or should emphasis be on finding solutions to the problems identified as requiring reform at the domestic level of the agency responsible for internal migration control?
3.Would it not make more political currency to engage the public in Barbados, civil society, and regional publics such as corresponding Heads of Government on probable solutions to the problems that cause irregular migration and insecurity?
4.Do Barbados and/or other CARICOM Member States have a moral duty and ethical challenge to ensure the humane treatment of Caribbean peoples?

I close by stating that Mr. Holder’s article makes an interesting read despite its faulty premises and some misleading statements. Nevertheless, it opens discussion on several fronts that are important for consideration. It nonetheless falls way short of the consistency that would lead to the essence of his summary. Holder summarises that managed migration is “best suited for protecting the rights of the immigrants,” and I do agree with the conclusion. I hope that he is not insinuating that the discriminatory policy and practice as being undertaken by the Government of Barbados will achieve this feat. I am seeing and hearing widespread fear and this will only serve to push persons underground making it more difficult to actually manage immigration challenges.

I too end by stating that persons who support the Government of Barbados’ position do not continue to demonise and criminalise those persons who make a contribution to this country regardless of if they are citizens, non-citizens, documented or undocumented. Let us debate the various positions and come to consensus on a way forward and means to manage immigration in Barbados and across CARICOM.

There's not a lot of common ground between these two proponents. But that is hardly surprising. The subject is charged and emotive, and people appear to have taken sides that do not move much with discussion.


Debra Hughes said...

There are so many red flags on the pole of this "new" immigration policy that we could be forgiven for mistaking it for a fire sale.
The absence of critical data supporting the raison d'etre for the new policy makes me go hmmm.
My own equally illogical repartee therefore is so what if they embarrass a whole nation to distract it from their ineptitude.
I try so hard nowadays not to argue with fools.

Aohinds said...

Typical response. Well, really the organized response. From Norman Girvan on down, the drumbeat of objection from the landed gentry, academics et al, is give us data. As far back as 2005, we were asking Mia Mottley for said Data, none was forthcoming, the open door policy continue and the Debbie Hughes of the world had no reason to argue with fools. What has change? There is still no emperical data but the open door policy is being closed, not permanently, but to get a sense of who comes and goes, and this brings about a struggle to contain the urge to argue with fools. Why not go a step further and deny the fools the right to vote that way you would not have to put up with "THEY", their potential to embarrass you by displaying their ineptitude. If I did not know better I would think that you are a non partisan commentator.

Yours faithfully