by Brett Samuels · September 9, 2019
President Trump said Monday that the United States needs to be “careful” in making sure everyone entering the country from the Bahamas has proper documentation, suggesting dangerous individuals could sneak into the U.S. along with those seeking refuge following Hurricane Dorian.
“We have to be very careful. Everybody needs totally proper documentation. Because look, the Bahamas has some tremendous problems with people going to the Bahamas who weren’t supposed to be there,” Trump told reporters on the South Lawn at the White House.
Trump went on to suggest that gang members or drug dealers could be among those seeking refuge in the U.S. after the devastation from Dorian.
“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,” Trump continued.
The president claimed that “large sections” of the Bahamas were not hit by Dorian, and that the U.S. would seek to relocate Bahamians in need to those parts of the country.
Trump’s remarks came after dozens of people evacuating the Bahamas were kicked off of a ferry headed for Florida over confusion regarding their visas.
The individuals were told to disembark the boat because they weren’t traveling with U.S. visas, according to various reports.
Others from the Bahamas have reportedly been allowed to travel to the U.S. with passports after undergoing a screening process that showed no proof of criminal record.
Acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan told reporters Monday that the developments were the result of “confusion,” and said the Trump administration would look to process anyone seeking entry into the U.S. from the Bahamas for humanitarian reasons on an expedited basis.
“You can imagine any type of natural disaster like this where you have this huge disaster, a lot of resources going on and responding, there’s going to be some confusion,” Morgan told reporters at the White House.
“We are not working and telling a cruise line that you cannot allow anyone without documents. That’s just not being done.”
“We will accept anyone on humanitarian reasons that’s going to come here, we’re going to process them,” Morgan continued, though he stressed that individuals will not be granted entry if they are deemed inadmissible, including in cases of criminal records.
Morgan later clarified that there has not been a formal grant of temporary protected status for individuals in the Bahamas affected by the hurricane, but said conversations about it would be appropriate.
Later Monday, the Department of Homeland Security issued guidance on visa requirements for Bahamas citizens traveling to the U.S. It states that Bahamas citizens may apply for admission without a visa at Customs and Border Protection (CBP) preclearance facilities in Nassau or Freeport if they meet a number of requirements, including having no criminal record, possessing a valid passport or travel document and traveling on a flight where CBP completes immigration and customs inspections.
The guidance states, however, that travelers arriving by vessel must possess a valid passport and a valid travel visa.
“CBP Port Directors may use discretion and will consider all exigent circumstances on a case by case basis, in accordance with existing laws and regulations,” the guidance states.
The Bahamas were badly devastated by Hurricane Dorian, which was a Category 5 storm when it hit the islands. It stayed over the Bahamas for almost two days as rain and winds battered homes. More than 40 people have been confirmed dead with thousands still missing.
Roughly 70,000 people in the Bahamas are thought to be in need of food, water and medical help.
Trump said Monday the Bahamas got hit by the hurricane “like nothing I’ve ever seen.” He noted that USAID had already deployed resources to assist the island, adding that others who wanted to contribute were welcome to do so.
“It got hit like nothing I’ve seen. Anybody wants to help that’s OK with me,” Trump told reporters.
—Updated at 8:33 p.m.
The Hill · by Brett Samuels · September 9, 2019