Did Bahamian Hurricane Survivors Get Screwed By Trump, Incompetence, Or Trump's Incompetence?
The news sounded ominous: over 100 passengers on a Bahamian ferry bound from Freeport to Ft. Lauderdale Sunday were told they'd have to get off the boat before it left, because they didn't have visas to travel to the United States. Normally, no visa is needed for Bahamians to go to Florida -- they only need their Bahamas passport and a recent copy of a clean criminal record check from police. Video of the passengers reacting to the announcement that they'd "suffer penalties" if they didn't have a visa went all over Twitter, and people wondered what the fuck Stephen Miller was pulling now. Turning away people fleeing a hurricane, are you fucking kidding?
Like everything else in the Trump years, it's not clear whether this is due to deliberate fuckery, bureaucratic incompetence, or some combination of the two. US officials insisted the rules hadn't changed, at all, saying instead the ferry company had screwed up and should have cleared those passengers' information with the US embassy beforehand, which immigration officials said is the usual procedure. The Spanish-owned ferry company, Baleària, says it received contradictory messages from US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) about what documents the passengers would need.
At this rate, we won't be the least bit surprised if we learn the ferry was targeted because Donald Trump wanted the passengers to be sent to one of his properties to buy dinner before being allowed to go about their business.
Initially, US officials said Baleària had failed to follow proper procedures, and should have cleared its passengers documents with the US embassy in Nassau. But a spokesperson for Baleària, Pilar Boix Escolies, said CPB was the source of the confusion.
[Boix Escolies] said the company required all passengers to have visas on Friday and Saturday, but on Sunday allowed people without visas to board because United States immigration authorities said they could.
Only after the passengers had boarded did the authorities tell the company that Bahamians without a visa had to leave from Nassau, where they would get pre-clearance to enter the United States, she said.
"This was a situation we do not like. We interpreted instructions that were not correct," Ms. Boix Escolies said. "They are making Baleària out to be the bad guys. When we board passengers, it is with the objective of taking them to their destination."
An official with CBP told Florida TV station WSVN Monday that if the passengers without visas had stayed on the ferry, CBP would have gone ahead and processed them after they landed in Florida, though it may have taken a while:
If those folks did stay on the boat and arrived, we would have processed them, vetted them and worked within our laws and protocols and done what we had to do to facilitate them [...] They were not ordered off the boat by any U.S. government entity.
The CBP official said Baleària appeared to have made a "business decision" to tell passengers without visas to disembark, which doesn't quite pass the smell test. The ferry company presumably knows a thing or two about handling its passengers' trips between the islands and Florida, and issued a statement Monday afternoon emphasizing that the contradictory information came straight from US officials.
The New York Times reports American officials "said on Monday that only travelers arriving by air were eligible to enter without visas," as long as they had a passport and proof of no criming.
To confuse matters further, the "president" of the USA said Monday that Bahamians fleeing disaster had to be screened carefully, because they might all be bent on MURDER:
We have to be very careful. Everybody needs totally proper documentation because the Bahamas had some tremendous problems with people going to the Bahamas that 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.
"Very bad gang members and some very, very bad drug dealers," is, of course, Donald Trump's code for "BLACK PEOPLE AIYEEEEEEEEEEE!"
Also, the hurricane was far worse in the US than in the Bahamas, you see. Trump laid the groundwork for his next three weeks of pissy tweets, arguing that "large sections" of the Bahamas were completely untouched by the hurricane, and that's where all the people whose homes were destroyed will have to be stored, NOT IN THE USA, OK? THERE'S NO ROOM HERE. Fact check: The Bahamas' most populous island, New Providence, was not hit as hard as Grand Bahama and Abaco, but the Bahamian government is overwhelmed, and this is a truly shitty time to be talking about telling the Bahamas to handle survivors itself.
To add to the confusion, the Washington Post reports that on Saturday, a far larger cruise ship, the Grand Celebration, brought almost 1,500 hurricane survivors from the Bahamas -- many of them without US visas -- to the Port of Palm Beach without incident. In a statement, CBP pointed out that the Bahamian operators of THAT ship did all the stuff they were supposed to:
The Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line coordinated their evacuation mission with U.S. and Bahamian government officials before departing The Bahamas, and coordinated with CBP prior to the arrival of the C/S Grand Celebration [...] All of the evacuees possessed valid travel documents.
Guys, saying Baleària was Goofus and Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line was Gallant would be a lot more convincing if that didn't contradict the Monday rationale that only airline passengers would be able to bypass the visa requirement. You idiots are making shit up as you go along again. And we're still waiting for more shoes to drop, possibly at tropical storm speeds -- we won't be especially shocked if we learn Trump or Miller had a tantrum after hearing about that first ship's arrival in Florida.
Update: An earlier version of the NYT story linked to the actual rules governing the no-visa-needed agreement between the US and Bahamas, and it does indeed appear only to apply to flights from Nassau and Freeport airport. Which makes one wonder how the cruise ship was allowed to travel under that rule? Maybe CBP interpreted the rule generously in allowing that voyage, and then realized (or was advised?) it shouldn't have? Your guess is as good as ours!
The Voice of Reason in all this, believe it or not, turns out to be former Florida governor (and current senator) Rick Scott, who isn't normally someone we associate with reason or even basic decency. But here he is, making all kinds of sense and saying that if CBP and the Bahamian government had consulted more closely, this Chaos Fucktagon could have been avoided, and could the US and Bahamian governments please make sure it doesn't happen again?
"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 in a statement. Scott noted that he and [Sen. Marco] Rubio "continue to urge President Trump to waive some visa requirements for those in the Bahamas that have family in the United States. But until that happens, there needs to be clarity on the current rules."
Scott also encouraged CBP "to work with the Bahamian government to set up a temporary site at their ports of entry. Professionals should be on site to help the many Bahamians trying to leave destruction."
Still, rejoice and be glad! As best we can tell, this looks like it was more of a funkbungle of bad communication from CBP, compounded by post-hoc ass covering, more than any attempt to deliberately keep hurricane survivors from getting to the US.
Of course, this being the Trump era, we can't entirely rule out the possibility that this is also weaponized incompetence: if some Bahamians are dissuaded from seeking even temporary shelter in the US, isn't that terrific?
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Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.