Bermuda's Senate has passed co-called “controversial immigration legislation” earlier this week designed to protect Bermudians’ rights. The new Act gives the Bermuda Immigration and Protections Act priority over the Human Rights Act.
Progressive Labour Party senator Crystal Caesar said that it was the role of the Government to protect its nationals.
Ms Caesar added: “The promotion and protection of Bermudians in the workforce, and the protection of land for Bermudians, is perfectly justifiable and absolutely necessary.”
It was introduced by Walton Brown, the Minister of Home Affairs, to prevent court challenges to immigration law by non-Bermudians claiming discrimination on the grounds of place of origin over rights of residence and Bermuda status.
Ms Caesar said that the Government was both an advocate of the Human Rights Act and the Human Rights Commission.
She added: “However, it is also the Government’s mandate to ensure that as a steward of the Bermuda Immigration and Protection Act 1956, Bermudians must always come first.”
The Bermuda Immigration and Protection Amendment (No 2) Act 2017 was passed by a vote of 8-3. One Bermuda Alliance senators all voted against the Bill, while the three independents backed it.
The Human Rights Commission at first branded the changes “reckless” and warned that watering down the supremacy of human rights legislation threatened the “shield” that protects international human rights standards and freedoms on the island.
PLP senator Jason Hayward said the Bill would benefit Bermudians and added that there had been no protests or public outcry over it. He added: “There has been no real public dialogue urging members of this House to not support this particular piece of legislation.”
Senator Vance Campbell said there had been attempts to “instill fear” about the possible impacts of passing the Bill. Mr Campbell added that his wife was non-Bermudian and that he would not endorse anything he thought could harm his own family. Mr Campbell said: “The vast majority of Bermudians are likely, or could potentially be, negatively impacted by not passing this Bill.”
Senator Anthony Richardson said the Bill represented one more step in the PLP delivery on its mandate. He added that it “helps to secure jobs for Bermudians. That’s it”.
Mr Richardson said: “A vibrant Bermuda does depend upon both Bermudians being fully engaged and our non-Bermudian residents, who also bring a lot to the table.
“This amendment has nothing to do with being xenophobic, anti-foreign, or anything negative.”
One Bermuda Alliance senators Nick Kempe, Nandi Outerbridge and Andrew Simons voted against the Bill.
Senator Simons described it as “flawed”. He said: “It is clear to me that if this Bill is passed it will put families at risk emotionally and economically.”
Mr Simons said the process by which the Bill came together “in some way stinks”.
He added: “This legislation has been rushed at every step. The people we would hope would give counsel on this have themselves felt rushed.”
A report on immigration reform was delivered to Mr Brown on Tuesday.
The report was put together by an independent working group after more than 18 months of deliberations.
It was formed in the wake of protests last March over One Bermuda Alliance proposals for immigration reform. The report had not been released before senators voted for the Bill.
Mr Simons said that if the Bill was passed hastily “the value of that report is suddenly diminished”.
He added: “Eighteen months of work is completed just in time not to be used for a debate on immigration.” Senator Nick Kempe likened the Bill to using a “sledgehammer to crack a walnut”.
Mr Kempe explained: “I don’t believe the harm the Bill can cause outweighs the mischief it’s trying to cure.”
Senator Nandi Outerbridge said she did not understand the harm in asking for more time for consultation. But Kathy Lynn Simmons, Attorney-General and Government Senate Leader, said the matter was not undertaken in haste.
Ms Simmons said: “I get the points on consultation — and we all would agree that consultation has an extremely valuable role in achieving the best product. “This Bill is the product of extensive work and consultation within the Government framework.”
The legislation was passed in the House of Assembly last month.