Hundreds of Hurricane Dorian Refugees from the Bahamas Refused Entry into United States

Hundreds of Hurricane Dorian Refugees from the Bahamas Refused Entry into United States

It is hard to know whether malice of bureaucratic incompetence is behind this story of Bahamian refugees from Hurricane Dorian being denied entrance to the United States. The problem is that with the Trump administration’s track record on immigration, it is impossible to give the U.S. the benefit of the doubt.

On the surface, it seems straightforward. Brian Entin, a reporter for a Miami television station, was on a ferry heading from Freeport in the Bahamas to Fort Lauderdale in Florida. Since conditions on the island are so bad thanks to the destruction from Dorian, people are already desperate:

Then it seems the ferry crew started forcing people who had already boarded to get back off if they did not have a visa. Under normal circumstances, Bahamians are not required to have a visa to enter the U.S. Under post-Dorian circumstances, it’s an insane requirement:

Eventually, all the passengers without a visa, having waited in line for hours to get on the ferry, were forced to disembark. (Hundreds of people, according to Entin.) This meant staying in a place with no electricity or running water, and who knows how long until those services will be restored.

In the aftermath, the ferry company blamed U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, saying the agency told the ship’s crew that anyone without a visa would not be allowed into the country. Officers at CBP blamed the ferry company for not coordinating with them. What’s interesting in this letter is CBP does not seem to deny that the Bahamians needed “travel documents,” which could mean visas. But Bahamians have been getting evacuated with just passports and copies of their police records for days:

Entin interviewed two CBP officers when he arrived in Florida. They again blamed the ferry crew for not coordinating with them and claimed they would have processed the refugees within the laws of the U.S., but the company “made a business decision” to not do so.

So to sum up: the ferry company let CBP know that they were bringing over hundreds of Bahamians. The CBP seems to have said those people needed the proper “travel documents,” which the crew of the ferry took to mean visas, and that passports alone would not be sufficient. So anyone without a visa — which was most everyone — was taken off the boat before it left Freeport.

But again, based on the track record of immigration and border officials in the Trump administration, how likely is it that this was a genuine screw-up and not something more nefarious to keep foreigners from entering the country?

Here is the report Entin filed when he returned to the U.S:

Gary Legum

Gary Legum

Gary Legum has written about politics and culture for Independent Journal Review, Salon, The Daily Beast, Wonkette, AlterNet and McSweeney's, among others. He currently lives in his native state of Virginia.