Government makes concessions over immigration initiative
The Bermuda government has offered a series of con-cessions over its controversial Pathways to Status initiative, but tensions surrounding immigration reform remained high as protests continued for a fourth day yesterday.
Tuesday night's announce-ment came shortly before the House of Assembly session scheduled for Wednesday, which was due to feature a debate on the legislation opposed by hundreds of protesters, was adjourned until Friday by Speaker of the House Randy Horton.
Premier Michael Dunkley announced, he had contacted Bermuda Industrial Union (BIU) president Chris Furbert to lay out the concessions.
"They are testing us. They are trying to play our children against their children, saying they want to make sure there is a pathway to status that everyone would agree with. We are not trying to deny them anything," Furbert said.
Around 50 protesters were outside the House of Assembly by 7 a.m. yesterday as a newspaper poll showed that more than half of registered voters approve Pathways to Status.
The concessions would include a three-month delay on implementation of the "15-year pathway", allowing those who have lived in Bermuda for 15 years to apply for permanent residency, which Dunkley said had caused the most widespread concern. Foreigners who have lived here for 20 years would
be able to apply for status (citizenship) which would give them the right to vote.
In the meantime, Dunkley said that a working group would be established "comprising representatives from various stakeholders".
The group would offer recom-mendations on the matter, as well as a living wage and training requirements for Bermudians; unscrupulous business tactics that undermine Bermudian labour and summer job oppor-tunities for Bermudians via the international business sector.
However, Dunkley underlined his desire to shore up children and family pathway issues "in short order".
NEED TO ADDRESS CHILDREN
He said that there was general agreement on both sides of the debate that immigration reform legislation needs to address children who are born in Bermuda or who arrived here at a young age, those who have remained on the island for 20-plus years, and mixed-status families.
Dunkley also highlighted the government's continued commitment to Pathways, as well as its belief that the bill is in Bermuda's best interest.
The premier criticised the protesters' decision to physically block members of parliament from entering the House of Assembly on Monday by forming a human barricade, calling the move "simply unacceptable behaviour.
"This government is always willing to listen. We have always said that we take no issue with people expressing their democratic right to voice their opinions and have their views heard.
"But bolting the doors of the House posed a danger to everyone inside the building, and the disruption also prevented the courts from being able to go about their business, with several trials having to be moved."