Bahamian Hurricane Evacuees Without a Visa Taken Off Ship On CBP Order [UDPATE]

People look out from a ferry as they wait to be evacuated to Nassau in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, from the port of Marsh Harbor, Abaco Island, Bahamas, Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019. It’s been nearly a week after Dorian roared in from the sea as the most powerful hurricane in the northwestern Bahamas’ recorded history.
Photo: Fernando Llano (AP)

Update, 1:47 AM ET, 09/09/2019: Statement from U.S. Customs and Border Protection added. 

A reporter estimated that hundreds of Bahamian hurricane evacuees were ordered to leave a ferry headed toward Florida on Sunday night because they did not have a visa, per a last-minute decision by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

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Bahamians only need a valid passport and a copy of their police record, according to CBP. “CBP was notified of a vessel preparing to embark an unknown number of passengers in Freeport and requested that the operator of the vessel coordinate with U.S. and Bahamian government officials in Nassau before departing The Bahamas,” a CBP spokesperson said in an email to Splinter. (The full statement is at the end of the story.)

WSVN investigative reporter Brian Entin was onboard the ferry from Freeport Harbour to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., with the evacuees on Sunday. The night started with ferries being sold out that afternoon. The crowds of people trying to get onto Entin’s ferry were told that ferry tickets could only only be booked online. On an island lacking electricity!

When Entin eventually boarded a ferry, an announcement was given “that any Bahamian without a visa must now get off.” This is unusual and different from typical entry policies, according to Entin and also CBP’s website.

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But as Entin’s reporting shows, the night will only get more confusing. As ferry staff checked passports, hundreds aboard the ferry were forced to disembark the boat. There was a rule change because of Dorian’s destruction (unclear how official that rule change was) that allowed Bahamians to come to U.S. with the documentation on ships as well as planes, but that’s gone out the window it seems.

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Entin later reported that the ferry took off, leaving all evacuees without a visa behind. “The Bahamians who remain are in shock. No one understands why the rule was changed at the last minute. The parents and kids now stuck on the island,” Entin tweeted.

The crew of the ferry said originally it was acceptable to allow evacuees with the normal documentation (passport and police record copy) onto the ferry and boarded the ferry as normal. “Then when they sent manifest to US Customs and Border Patrol — they were told those without visas would not be accepted,” Entin tweeted.

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Earlier on Sunday, CBP sent a news release that urged anyone doing evacuation to “coordinate any evacuation missions with Bahamian authorities before evacuating anyone from The Bahamas.

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“Additionally, CBP reminds private vessel and aircraft operators, and Bahamians affected by Hurricane Dorian, that everyone who arrives to the United States from another country must present themselves to a CBP officer for inspection at an official CBP Port of Entry. All persons must possess valid identity and travel documents.”

The link for valid travel documents in that news release, again, included valid passport and proof of clear police record, but no visa requirement.

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Guess the Trump administration really must be angling to put RSVP on the Statue of Liberty.

Full CBP statement, per a CBP spokesman:

“U.S. Customs and Border Protection is supporting the humanitarian mission with interagency partners in the Bahamas following the devastating impact of Hurricane Dorian.

CBP continues to process the arrivals of passengers evacuating from the Bahamas according to established policy and procedures—as demonstrated by the nearly 1,500 Hurricane Dorian survivors who arrived at the Port of Palm Beach, Fla., aboard a cruise ship on Saturday and were processed without incident.

CBP relies on the transportation companies in both the air and sea environments to be engaged in ensuring the safety and well-being of any individuals that have been devastated by this tragedy and that requires transparent communication and planning for adequate resources to receive any arrivals.

CBP was notified of a vessel preparing to embark an unknown number of passengers in Freeport and requested that the operator of the vessel coordinate with U.S. and Bahamian government officials in Nassau before departing The Bahamas.

Everyone who arrives to the United States from another country must present themselves to a CBP officer for inspection at an official CBP Port of Entry. All persons must possess valid identity and travel documents. CBP has a Preclearance operation in Nassau. CBP is committed to carrying out our duties with professionalism and efficiency—facilitating lawful international travel and trade.”

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