After more than 100 survivors of Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas were kicked off a ferry headed to Fort Lauderdale Sunday night because they lacked a U.S. visa, Rick Scott says the U.S. and Bahamian governments must work together to prevent that from happening again.
“It’s important Customs and Border Protection and the Bahamian government work together to clarify the current rules regarding visas in the Bahamas,” the Florida U.S. senator said in a written statement. “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.”
Since the Category 5 storm smashed into the Bahamas last week, killing at least 45 people, hundreds of Bahamian refugees have entered the U.S. with just a passport and proof of no criminal record.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials say that the rules did not change on Sunday night, and are blaming the ferry operator who instructed those refugees who didn’t have a visa that they couldn’t travel to the U.S.
Customs and Border Protection “was notified of a vessel preparing to embark on 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,” the agency said in a statement sent to the Washington Post.
Scott said that he and Florida colleague U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio “continue to urge President Trump to waive some visa requirements for those in the Bahamas that have family in the U.S. But until that happens, there needs to be clarity on the current rules.”
Scott also said he would encourage Customs and Border Protection to work with the Bahamian government to set up a temporary site at their ports of entry.
Terrie Rizzo, the chair of the Florida Democratic Party, said there shouldn’t be any visa requirements.
“We need to waive visa requirements and grant temporary protected status immediately to Bahamian evacuees so they can get get to safety and to reduce the strain on recovery efforts underway,” Rizzo said.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis flew over the Bahamas last week to review the damage. He said on Monday that most of the Bahamian islands were not affected by the massive storm, and that the Trump administration is working with Bahamian government officials to keep most of the population in place.
“I thought there was going to be more structural damage. There’s damage. They’re going to have issues there. But I think that the airport’s probably going to open up soon,” he told reporters on the campus of Florida State University. “And I think that they’re going to be able to work with that area much better than I would have anticipated.”
DeSantis said he didn’t want to comment on the confusion about the visa situation, saying that was an issue between the U.S. and Bahamian government. “I can tell you that the president and the Bahamian government – none of them want to try to facilitate a big migration. They believe that it should be something that be dealt with in the Bahamas, and I think that makes sense.”
Michael Moline contributed to this report.