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Evacuees wait to board a bus heading to an evacuation shelter after getting off a ferry from Marsh Harbour on Abaco island in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian in Nassau, Bahamas on September 9, 2019. (Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images)

Immigrant Rights and Green Groups Join Forces in Rally at CBP, Demanding Trump Welcome Bahamians and All Climate Refugees

"In the climate crisis, we must not deny entry to survivors of disasters."

Julia Conley

The climate crisis and the Trump administration's anti-immigration agenda intersected this week when immigration officials barred some Hurricane Dorian evacuees from the U.S., prompting the Sunrise Movement, United We Dream, and other groups to organize a rally in Washington, D.C. Wednesday night and demand that Bahamians be allowed into the country.

As the groups were preparing for the rally, multiple sources Wednesday afternoon reported that Bahamians would not be granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which would allow them to live and work in the U.S. until it is safe to return home.

The groups plan to rally at 6:30 pm ET at Customs and Border Protection (CBP) headquarters and demand the agency reverse its policy of requiring Bahamians to have a travel visa if they're arriving in the U.S. after fleeing Hurricane Dorian's destruction.

The rule, reflected on the Department of Homeland Security website, which was updated on Monday, goes against general protocol for Bahamian travelers, who have normally been allowed into the U.S. with only a passport and clean police record.

"This is disgraceful and goes against everything we are supposed to stand for as a nation," Sunrise Movement co-founder Varshini Prakash said in a statement. "These are people whose homes and livelihoods have been totally destroyed, who have lost family members. But instead of welcoming them with open arms and offering support, we’re sending them back to an island with little shelter, no food, and no access to basic necessities."

CBP provoked outrage on Sunday when more than 100 Bahamians were forced off a ferry headed from Freeport to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, because they didn't have visas.

The agency claimed the decision had been made by the ferry operator, but that claim was contradicted by DHS's updated rules on its website and President Donald Trump's comments on Bahamians on Monday night.

"We have to be very careful," Trump told reporters Monday, claiming that "very bad gang members" and "drug dealers" may be among the refugees fleeing the Bahamas.

Buzzfeed News interviewed Bahamians about the president's comments on Tuesday.

"He's an idiot," hotel manager Vida Hepburn said after watching a video of Trump while taking a break from delivering water and food to badly damaged neighborhoods in Grand Bahama. "But we just went through a Cat-5, he can't bother me."

"On Wednesday, we'll rally with partners outside the Customs and Border Patrol offices in Washington D.C. to demand they stop turning away people fleeing destruction," said Prakash. "The survivors of Hurricane Dorian are climate change refugees fleeing disaster, and they deserve compassion and support, not isolation and exclusion."

Emergency crews are still assessing Dorian's damage after the storm's landfall in the Bahamas on September 1. The official death toll currently stands at 50, and 2,500 are still missing after some communities were completely destroyed. Nearly the entire populations of Grand Bahama and Abaco islands—nearly 70,000 people—were displaced by the storm, and more than 60,000 people need food and water assistance.

Trump's views on people fleeing the post-Dorian conditions, the groups warned, are a sign of how he and leaders like him could respond to other groups of climate refugees.

Last year, the World Bank said that 143 million people may be forced into climate migration by 2050, from Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, and Southeast Asia.

"We have a choice about who we want to be as a country," said Prakash ahead of the rally. "As the climate crisis makes storms like Dorian stronger and deadlier, will we build bigger walls and keep polluting and making the crisis worse, or will we give the most vulnerable a safe haven in their time of most dire need and commit ourselves to tackling this crisis?"


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