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After Dorian, a raft of proposals from Florida lawmakers

Politicians offer ideas on how to best help those in need in the Bahamas

MIAMI | In the wake of Hurricane Dorian, two Florida Republican senators are asking 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. The death toll stands at over 40 and is expected to increase as search and rescue continue. 

“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. Senator 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.”

Florida, Scott noted, enjoys deep historical ties with the Bahamas, and, due to proximity, many Floridians have family there. Having prepared for and avoided a direct hit from 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.”

Sen. Scott also offered his “four proposals to help families in Bahamas recovery,” including a change in the U.S. tax code to incentivize charitable giving; a continued deployment of U.S. Coast Guard and other U.S. entities to provide humanitarian assistance; redirecting foreign aid away from his list of foreign adversary countries and toward the Bahamas recovery efforts; and a redeployment of all Peace Corps projects from China to the Bahamas.  

For his part, Sen. Rubio, who traveled to the Bahamas following the hurricane, is urging the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to request that the U.S. Naval Ship (USNS) 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 writes that, “The USNS Comfort, and 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.”

Florida state Rep. Shevrin Jones, a Democrat from Broward County, took umbrage this week at reports that some Bahamas evacuees were turned back from a ferry bound for Florida last weekend, apparently due to visa requirements. But many lack all the proper documents due to the storm, Rep. Jones pointed out. 

He tweeted this week that Americans’ kindness cannot end at just giving donations and relief supplies. “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 wrote. “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 some may travel without a visa on the Visa Waiver Program. 

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

But those pre-clearance station hours of operation may change with short notice in emergency situations such as hurricane watches, the State Department states.

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