Strategic Implications of Illegal Immigration

First Published: 2005-03-18

The Bahamas is sandwiched between great wealth – including its own territory and citizenry – and some of the most dire examples of poverty in the Western Hemisphere. In recent years, The Bahamas' location has evolved into a significant migration pathway leading to the United States. Unfortunately, the side affect of this migration has been the growing presence of illegal aliens on the territory of The Bahamas. Many have now taken up long-term residence. Once ensconced, these illegal immigrants provide a surreptitious, embedded, and knowledgeable network that promotes additional immigration of family members and friends. The problem has now reached an epidemic proportion.

To better understand the situation that The Bahamas faces, it is important to consider the regional geography of the problem.

The populations along The Bahamas' southwestern frontier together comprise some 27 million people, with an estimated combined annual migrating population of 61,208 (this is equal to about 20% of The Bahamas total population). The numbers are impressive, and for The Bahamas, worrying.

The average population density in bordering countries is 178 persons per square kilometer, about what it is today in the Dominican Republic. The Bahamas density is about 16.8% of this; or in other words, the regional average population density is about five times greater than that found on The Bahamas. Given the sparse population of the Family Islands, the actual disparity is even greater.

The Bahamas' situation today is somewhat similar to that faced by Australia in the 1980s, when the Australians discovered long, or at least well, established Indonesian fishing villages on its northern coast. The situation had developed because the Northern Australian coast was both remote and rarely patrolled. As a result, a challenge to Australia's sovereignty was perceived by its national government, and it responded by increasing the frequency of its military patrols in and along its northern frontier.

Another historical example of how migration can effect territorial sovereignty may be found in the example of Texas and its eventual succession form Mexico. Under Spanish and then Mexican sovereignty in the 17th, 18th and first half of the 19th centuries, Texas was a frontier department sparsely settled and little developed. It could be argued that the territory was neglected. In any event, Mexico did take the step of instituting a settlement campaign to populate its frontier province. Most of the settlers that legally came were in fact Americans, or from northern European countries. Their culture and values contrasted starkly with the Spanish culture of Mexico. A cultural clash developed, civil war ensured, and eventually the weight of the American population prevailed. Texas became independent, culturally American, and later joined the United States.

There's an important lesson here. According to the German military strategist Karl von Clausewicz (2), one of the most important principals of conflict is the principal of mass. The idea of mass is that one group overwhelms another through sheer numbers, whether its numbers of troops, or numbers of equipment; or, in the case of The Bahamas, numbers of citizens.

The Bahamas today faces a territorial challenge founded in the reality that the sheer numbers facing the country are overwhelming. The government should understand that the principal of mass usually prevails in these situations. And yet, there are exceptions.

In the past century, the Sultanate of Brunei and Singapore stand out as two tiny countries that have successfully prevented illegal immigration, and even territorial expropriation (in the case of the former). Today, Malta and the United Arab Emirates stand out as two small counties that are successfully countering illegal immigration. In Malta's case, it's situation is analogous to The Bahamas' in that Malta lies in the path of African migration into southern Europe. For the UAE, it is the final destination of illegal immigration, mostly coming from southern Asia, but also from Africa and eastern Asia. In all cases, these countries have successfully defended their territory and guaranteed their sovereignty through implementation of effective military and police capabilities that have been formed and fielded as a multi-layered defense.

The Bahamas must develop a strategy to consistently and persistently patrol its entire territory and frontiers to deter illegal immigration. The sheer magnitude of the problem indicates that it won't stop, and that it will most likely continue to grow. The government must develop a new approach to this situation.

1. Numbers developed from the current web-edition of the World Factbook by multiplying the national population by its immigration rate.

2. Karl Von Clausewicz, On War, 1832 (various publishers).

William J. Cox is President of Alchem Ltd, a Bahamas corporation that develops natural gas processing technologies. His career in the oil industry includes international exploration, production, and extensive executive management experience. He has a Masters Degree (1984) from the University of Texas at Austin where he wrote his thesis on the structural geology of Eastern Panama. He is a member of the Association of International Petroleum Negotiators, a Certified Photogrammetrist, and a life member of the Phi Kappa Phi National Honor Society.

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