One of the World's Smallest Navies Thwarts Illegal Entries to the U.S.

By David North on March 13, 2011

It is one of the world's tiniest navies, yet it is doing an effective job of preventing illegal entries to the U.S.

And, no, it does not carry the U.S. flag, and it may not even get any U.S. government funds.

The entity is the Royal Bahamas Defense Force (BDF), which is the army, navy, and air force of the Bahamas, all wrapped into a single organization.

If everyone's press releases are to be believed, it is much, much more likely to stop illegal immigrants from Haiti than all of America's migration cops put together.

I have been puzzled for over a year now by the infrequent announcements from U.S. organizations about heading off illegal migrants from Haiti, an always poverty-stricken nation hammered by a devastating earthquake in January 2010, and by a subsequent outbreak of cholera.

Similarly, why did so few – some 53,000 Haitians, mostly illegals, within the U.S. – sign up for Temporary Protected Status, when USCIS expected a couple of hundred thousand? This is the case even though USCIS took the totally unnecessary step of extending the sign-up time (not the eligibility time) by six months for this program, as I mentioned in an earlier blog.

The rules were that you had to be in the U.S., either legally or in nonimmigrant status, on the date of the earthquake; if so, you were granted TPS status and could apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) with an excellent chance of getting one. TPS is a form of nominally short-term legal status, but the Department of Homeland Security has a long history of extending the TPS status time and again.

I think the answer to the apparent non-arrivals of illegal migrants from Haiti can be found in the activities of the BDF. If you want to sail from Haiti to Florida (the nearest part of the U.S.) one travels through hundreds of miles of Bahamas waters, and past scores of Bahamas islands.

The alternative route by sea, if you look at a map, is much longer. You would sail along the entire southern edge of Cuba – it is a really long island – around its western end and then backtrack to the northeast toward Florida. This is about twice as long as the Bahamas route.

Since January 1 of this year the U.S. Coast Guard has issued three press releases on the repatriation of Haitians. It apprehended five in January, four in February, and 86 on March 10. When it finds them, the Coast Guard takes them back to Cap-Haitien, Haiti's second city, on its north coast. Cap-Haitien is a little less poverty-stricken than Port-au-Prince and it escaped the earthquake, so it is a good location for returning people.

In contrast, the tiny Bahamas Navy had, in the first two months of the year apprehended and returned 467 Haitians. Then on March 2 the BDF found two more ships, a 40-foot sloop, with 164 persons (127 men and 37 women), and another, smaller one with 93 people on board, for a grand total of 724 vs. the U.S. Coast Guard's 95 in the same time period.

You probably have visited people with living rooms 40 feet long; think of jamming 164 people into such an enclosure.

The ships stopped were, as usual with those carrying Haitian migrants, old and badly over-loaded.

"Boarding Officer Sub-Lieutenant Adrian Stubbs said that . . . conditions aboard the vessels were 'extremely horrible' and included a lack of proper bathrooms", according to a news account in The Tribune, a Bahamas publication.

The next line in the news article was both oblique and a little ominous: "health precautions had to be taken, not just for the migrants but also for the boarding officers."

When the Coast Guard stops what it routinely describes as a "rustic vessel" full of would-be illegal entrants it takes them by ship to Cap Haitien. The BDF often charters a plane to make that trip, which costs $25,000 to move 144 people, according to another Bahamas news report.

One wonders if the U.S. is – as it should – defraying any of the migrant-stopping costs of the BDF. I was unable to get an answer from embassy, and a thorough reading of the quite detailed budget of that nation (on-line) showed receipts of $1 million from Mainland China, $9 million from the European community (it is a former UK colony), and $20 million or so from the U.S. for renting land on Andros for an undersea studies facility, but nothing from the U.S. for the BDF. (Andros is the largest island in the group, and only lightly populated; why we have a research facility there is not known to me.)

Maybe what the U.S. should rent is not a research facility but a well-placed and highly-effective little navy.