After any disaster, rescue and repair efforts are often chaotic, but the incident on Sunday night — when 119 storm-battered Bahamians hoping for refuge in the United States were kicked off a ferry headed for Florida — was an especially low point.
Bone-weary men, women and children left the boat after an announcement on board that anyone without a valid visa would “have problems” at the American port of entry.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection said in a statement that the agency requested for the company to coordinate with U.S. and Bahamian governments to arrange pre-screening of passengers before departing Freeport, but it failed to do so. The ferry operator apologized, saying it had permitted people to board without visas, thinking they weren’t needed.
Confused? That’s not the half of it. On Monday, the acting head of CBP, Mark Morgan, assured struggling Bahamians that the U.S. has undertaken “a humanitarian mission.”
“If your life is in jeopardy and you’re in the Bahamas ... you’re going to be allowed to come to the United States, whether you have travel documents or not,” Morgan soothed.
Then President Donald Trump and said the opposite: “Everybody needs totally proper documentation.”
“We have to be very careful,” Trump told reporters. “Because, look, the Bahamas had some tremendous problems with people that weren’t supposed to be there ... including some very bad people and very bad gang members.”
Oh, that old song again. The president dregs up the xenophobic bugaboos of his imagination and seeks to slam the door shut.
Thankfully, no bureaucratic obstacles stood in the way of 1,100 Dorian refugees arriving Saturday morning at the Port of Palm Beach on the cruise ship Grand Celebration, which had sailed to Freeport last week to drop off supplies and bring to safety as many of the storm-tossed as it could.
All credit to Florida’s Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, who toured the Bahamas last week and urged that the U.S. waiver or suspend certain visa requirements for Bahamians who have relatives in the U.S. while the country rebuilds. People from the Bahamas, they noted, have a history of not overstaying their visas.
Gov. Ron DeSantis, disappointingly, has punted entirely, stating that Bahamas relief is a federal, not a state matter and refusing to ask for visa waivers, at one point asserting that the evacuees are seeking some sort of “special migration.” As if they’re looking to gain some advantage rather than just a chance to stay alive.
Rather than parroting of Trump, we wish our governor would follow the lead of Republicans like Rubio on this. Rubio has asked that hospital ship USNS Comfort and other U.S. military aid be sent immediately to the Bahamas.
In the face of obstruction from a U.S. president and passivity from DeSantis, officials must keep urging for a humanitarian response to the disaster that was Dorian — even if it means contradicting the boss or the head of the party.
This editorial first appeared in the Palm Beach Post