FL lawmaker wants visa requirements waived for Bahamians following Hurricane Dorian

Democratic Rep. Shevrin Jones and activists discussing “Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act”
Democratic Rep. Shevrin Jones

(Update) Broward County Democratic state Rep. Shevrin Jones is calling on the Trump administration to waive U.S. visa requirements for Bahamian citizens whose lives have been upended by Hurricane Dorian.

While the full extent to the damage wreaked in the Bahamas from Hurricane Dorian isn’t known at this time, the Red Cross said Tuesday that the storm severely damaged or destroyed at least 45 percent of the homes on Grand Bahama and Abaco.

The storm made landfall over the weekend in the Bahamas with 185 mile per hour winds and gusts up to 220 mph, tying it with the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane as the strongest Atlantic storm to make landfall in history, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center.

“I urge the Trump administration as well as Senators Rubio and Scott to waive U.S. visa requirements for Bahamians seeking refuge post-Dorian,” Jones said in a written statement issued Wednesday. “I have spoken with (U.S.)Representative Frederica Wilson who agrees swift action must be taken before more lives are lost. It is inhumane to do nothing while thousands of our fellow human beings are left to languish without drinking water or shelter.”

Rubio responded to Jones’ request on Twitter, noting how many Floridians’ have family living in the Bahamas.

“Today I will be asking the Trump Administration to consider suspending certain visa requirements for citizens of The Bahamas displaced by #HurricaneDorian & with close relatives in the U.S.”

Jones has relatives living in the Bahamas, including cousins, uncles and aunts, who he says have been grappling with extensive flooding and damage, “but are thankfully all safe and accounted for.”

Hurricane Dorian has killed at least seven people in the Bahamas, as well as an elderly man in North Carolina, according to ABC News.

Meanwhile, the group New Florida Majority is partnering with dozens of organizations in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Palm Beach and Jacksonville to support relief efforts to the areas affected by Dorian. You can learn more information about that effort by going here.

Update: Later in the day, Florida U.S. Senators Rubio and Scott sent a letter to President Trump making a formal request to waive or suspend certain visa requirements for Bahamian citizens who have relatives residing in the U.S. You can read it below:

Dear Mr. President:

As Bahamians are just now beginning to confront the catastrophic aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, which stalled over parts of the country for nearly two days as a Major Category 5 hurricane, we write to respectfully ask that your administration waive, or otherwise suspend, certain visa requirements for affected citizens of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas who have relatives in the United States with whom they can reside as they begin the process of rebuilding their lives and their country.

Incoming images and media reports indicate that thousands of homes have been destroyed and the basic infrastructure of many communities simply no longer exists.  Many government services, including those of the United States government, are not functioning in the affected areas at this time. As Americans, and others throughout our hemisphere and across the globe, work to provide aid and assistance for the many needs of the Bahamian people at this time, perhaps one of the most basic yet meaningful steps our government can take immediately is to ensure that those who have lost everything, including family members in some instances, are provided the opportunity for shelter and reunification with family in the United States.

Florida enjoys historically deep ties with the Bahamas and, by proximity, many Floridians have family in the Bahamas. While parts of the Bahamas endured sustained winds of 180 miles for almost two days, Florida watched and prepared for Dorian’s landfall. Although Florida’s east coast continues to experience high winds and storm surges, our state is fortunate to avoid a direct hit. Floridians are now eager to help their family and friends in the Bahamas.

We appreciate your attention to this urgent matter, and stand ready to work with your administration to assist the people and the government of the Bahamas as they recover and rebuild from this catastrophic storm.



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