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Florida senators ask Trump to waive visa requirements for some Bahamians

IMAGE: CNS photo/Marco Bello, Reuters

By Tom Tracy

MIAMI (CNS) -- In the wake of Hurricane Dorian, two Florida Republican senators have asked President Donald Trump to waive or suspend certain visa requirements for Bahamian citizens with relatives residing in the U.S.

Hurricane Dorian stalled over the northern Bahamas Sept. 1-3 as one of the strongest storms in Atlantic history. As of Sept. 10, the death toll was at least 50 and was expected to increase as search and rescue operations continued.

"It's important Customs and Border Protection and the Bahamian government work together to clarify the current rules regarding visas in the Bahamas," Sen. Rick Scott said in his statement. His letter was co-signed by U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

"As hundreds of thousands of Bahamians seek refuge or start to rebuild after Hurricane Dorian, we cannot have the kind of confusion that occurred last night in Freeport," Scott said.

He was referring to the hundreds of people who on Sept. 8 boarded a ferry in Freeport destined for Port Everglades in Florida, only to be told to get off the boat if they did not have entry visas for the U.S., according to news reports.

"Sen. Rubio and I continue to urge President Trump to waive some visa requirements for those in the Bahamas that have family in the United States. But until that happens, there needs to be clarity on the current rules," he added.

Florida, Scott noted, enjoys deep historical ties with the Bahamas, and, due to proximity, many Floridians have family in the Bahamas. Having prepared for and avoided a direct hit from Hurricane Dorian, Floridians are now eager to help family and friends in the Bahamas.

"I also encourage Customs and Border Protection to work with the Bahamian government to set up a temporary site at their ports of entry. Professionals should be on site to help the many Bahamians trying to leave destruction," Scott said.

He also offered proposals to help families in Bahamas recover, including a change in the U.S. Tax Code to incentivize charitable giving; continued deployment of U.S. Coast Guard and other U.S. entities in providing humanitarian assistance; and a redirect of foreign aid away from countries he said are adversaries of the U.S. to put that aid toward the Bahamas recovery efforts.

For his part, Rubio, who traveled to the Bahamas following the hurricane, urged the U.S. Agency for International Development to request the USS Comfort be repositioned to the Bahamas as soon as possible, as well as any assets needed from the Bataan Amphibious Readiness Group.

In the letter, Rubio wrote that the Navy hospital ship with "its crew of trained medical staff, flight deck and ability to desalinate water, would be ideal in helping the Bahamian people."

It is critical that during this time of need for our neighbors, the United States uses all of our capabilities to continue to assist in the recovery efforts, he wrote. "This includes urgent efforts to save lives."

Regarding the situation with the ferry in Freeport, a Democratic state lawmaker, Rep. Shevrin Jones, has pointed out that many people lack all the proper documents due to the storm.

Americans' kindness cannot end at just giving donations and relief supplies, he said. "It has to extend to us helping our neighbors in the Bahamas have a place to recover while their homes and lives are rebuilt," he tweeted. "The Bahamians just need a temporary place to regroup."

U.S. State Department guidelines state that most individuals traveling to the United States require a visa but that some individuals may travel without a visa on the Visa Waiver Program.

Bahamian citizens who meet certain requirements may apply for admission to the United States without a visa at one of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection pre-clearance facilities located at the Nassau or Freeport International airports, if they meet certain requirements, according to the State Department rules.

But those preclearance station hours of operation may change with short notes in emergency situations such as hurricane watches, the State Department states.

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Editor's Note: Hurricane relief donations to CRS can be sent here: https://support.crs.org/donate/hurricane-dorian and to Catholic Charities USA here: https://app.mobilecause.com/form/RTKRvQ?vid=1snqm.

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Tracy writes for the Florida Catholic, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Miami.

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at [email protected]

Vatican calls for electoral reform, negotiations to resume in Nicaragua

IMAGE: CNS photo/Oswaldo Rivas, Reuters

By

GENEVA (CNS) -- With increasing concerns worldwide about human rights violations in Nicaragua, a Vatican representative has called for an immediate return to negotiations and a rollout of reforms necessary to hold "free and transparent elections" there.

"The Holy See has been following with great attention the sociopolitical situation in Nicaragua and believes that the unsettled disputes should be solved as soon as possible," said Archbishop Ivan Jurkovic, the Vatican observer to U.N. agencies in Geneva.

The Vatican recommended that all "political and social stakeholders" come together in a "renewed spirit of responsibility and reconciliation" in order to find a solution "that respects the truth, reestablishes justice and promotes the common good," he said in a speech Sept. 10 during a session of the U.N. Human Rights Council on the situation in Nicaragua.

"The Holy See strongly believes that it is essential to implement the agreements reached last March, to return immediately to open and mutually respectful negotiations and to realize, at the earliest, the electoral reforms for the holding of free and transparent elections with the presence of international observers," he said.

The meeting came the same day Michelle Bachelet, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, presented her report on Nicaragua, following a Human Rights Council resolution in March dedicated to promoting and protecting human rights in Nicaragua.

A major human rights crisis was triggered after police forces and pro-government groups cracked down on nationwide protests that began in April 2018 against a series of reforms mandated by President Daniel Ortega.

Some human rights groups have estimated the resulting violence led to the deaths of at least 300 people, the wounding of more than 2,000 people and the detention of hundreds more, who have been reportedly subjected to serious abuses such as torture and the denial of due process.

Even after major protests died down, human rights violations continued, according to the high commissioner's report, with the government banning public demonstrations by groups critical of the government and with the excessive use of force by police in ways that infringed on the freedom of expression and association.

The report said a number of nongovernmental organizations have lost their legal status, international monitors have been expelled, and media outlets have been shut down and journalists prosecuted under a new anti-terrorism law.

The government has also blocked the entry of medicine and food aid from Caritas the past year, a move the Nicaraguan bishops' conference has called an act of "irrational authoritarianism."

"We cannot remain in total silence, we cannot be silent," said Bishop Juan Mata Guevara of Esteli, Nicaragua, speaking on behalf of the bishops' conference.

Caritas Nicaragua and other diocesan aid programs help the poorest and are in no way connected to commercial or business activity, Bishop Mata told Fides, the news agency of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, Sept. 9.

Instead, the government controls every request by Caritas Nicaragua "in an exaggerated manner" of excessive bureaucracy, resulting in the aid, sent mostly by the U.S., Germany and Canada, never making it into the country.

"This way of proceeding is an exercise of irrational authoritarianism," he said, adding, "This reflects how the regime does not see the needs of those who suffer."

 

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at [email protected]

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