Hundreds of Bahamians who survived Hurricane Dorian were prohibited from escaping the island on a ferry destined for the United States, reportedly for lacking the proper paperwork. But now U.S. officials say those refugees should never have been blocked from boarding and would be welcomed stateside.
In footage captured by WSVN’s Brian Entin at the ferry terminal on Sunday, a man is heard over an intercom instructing anyone without a U.S. visa to leave the ferry before it sailed from Freeport, Bahamas, to Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
“All passengers that don’t have U.S. visas, please proceed to disembark,” the voice said.
The announcement sparked chaos and confusion on board as passengers argued that visas were not needed for refugees escaping the devastation left by Hurricane Dorian. They were right ― in comments to Miami’s WSVN, Customs and Border Protection officials blamed the ferry company, Balearia, for “raising expectations” that Bahamians without visas would be allowed to embark from the harbor in Freeport.
“I think [Balearia] raised their expectations without fulfilling the requirements,” an officer said early Monday morning. CBP officials said they never demanded that passengers disembark the ferry leaving from Freeport and that they “would have been processed” once they arrived in the U.S. had Balearia not kicked them off the boat, according to Newsweek.
Still, the U.S. officials were noncommittal when asked whether these passengers would have been permitted to stay in the U.S. upon arrival.
The CBP website lists alternative forms of identification Bahamians can provide to apply for entry into the U.S. if they don’t have a visa as long as they apply “at one of the US Customs and Border Protection Pre-clearance Facilities located in Nassau or Freeport International Airports.”
In a statement issued Sunday, CBP said the U.S. Embassy in Nassau is open for “emergency visa appointments.” The embassay is roughly 130 miles from the Freeport Harbor, where passengers expected to dock on Sunday.
President Donald Trump told reporters Monday that CBP’s policy regarding Bahamians seeking refuge is due to “problems” in the country.
The president’s statements are akin to previous statements he's made regarding Black and brown immigrants seeking aid in the United States.
As a presidential candidate, he falsely claimed Mexico was exploiting immigration laws to send rapists and drug dealers to the U.S. In 2018, Trump repeatedly claimed a caravan of South American refugees was coming to invade the United States.