Adding to what is undoubtedly a deeply traumatic experience—losing one’s home and upending any sense of safety and normalcy—many evacuated Bahamians bound for Florida in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian were told they could not enter the United States without proper paperwork, and reportedly as many as 130—women, men, children—disembarked a ship.
WSVN reporter Brian Entin documented the fiasco with a video showing dozens of families with children leaving a ferry because they did not have visas.
Entin’s videos went viral, and sparked considerable outrage, especially given the present administration’s draconian policies against migrants and immigrants of color. On Monday, the government responded, saying the ferry operator, Baleària Carribean, did not follow proper protocol.
On Monday, CBP spokesman Michael Silva told Newsweek that the U.S. government was definitely not at fault: “It breaks my heart because it’s like when you raise somebody’s hopes and then you pop the balloon...That, in my opinion, is what Baleària did,” Silva said to Newsweek. “It raised the expectations of these poor people who have been through an unimaginable situation with the hurricane...They raised their expectations only to then leave them terribly disappointed.”
Entin says that the CBP officials said the move was a “business decision” made by the ferry company, according to an interview he conducted with Custom and Border Patrol officials in Florida:
Newsweek reports that the company was supposed to divert the ship to Nassau so that they could receive the proper paperwork:
Silva said his office had informed the ferry company that it would need to transport evacuees fleeing the natural disaster to Nassau before heading to Florida, so that they could obtain visas to enter the U.S.
Instead, he said, Baleària forced dozens of the evacuees who had hoped to seek refuge in Florida off the ferry, leaving them stranded in the Bahamas.
Silva said that while CBP has stressed that any shipping companies or airlines planning to assist Bahamians fleeing the natural disaster ensure that evacuees have obtained proper documentation first, the agency would have processed the dozens of people who were left behind had they been able to make their way to a U.S. port.
“We would have definitely worked with this transportation company or any other transportation company to...facilitate this process,” Silva said. “CBP is not denying or discouraging evacuation efforts and we empathize with the plight of the Bahamian people.”
Stephen Silvestri, acting port director for the CBP at Port Everglades, also confirmed that Bahamians were not ordered off the boat by any government agency, and that had they gotten to the U.S., “we would have processed them, we would have done vetting and, you know, we would have done everything we needed to do within the US laws and regulations to determine their admissibility and process them accordingly,” reports CNN.
The Washington Post reports there has been bipartisan support for the president to waive all visa requirements for Bahamas survivors, especially from Florida lawmakers.
On Monday, Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) wrote an open letter to President Trump urging him to allow in refugees with relatives in the United States.
“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.
Described as an atomic bomb going off, the outer islands of the Bahamas were decimated by Hurricane Dorian, a Category 5 storm. So far, 45 people have been confirmed dead, hundreds are still missing, and nearly 70,000 have been left homeless.