How much does racial and electoral politics have to do with the ongoing debate over granting status to permanent resident certificate (PRC) holders? Depends on whom you ask.

Robert Pires, a Bermudian businessman who thinks PRC holders should be granted status, says politics has everything to do with the ongoing debate.

“It’s about the votes,” he said.

One overlooked part of the realpolitik of the situation, he said, is that PRC holders have children or other relatives who are Bermudian citizens. These are individuals who vote and who would support allowing a recent judicial decision to stand. 

To hear him tell it, such individuals could number in the thousands. Political parties should be cognizant of that fact, he said. A reversal of the judicial decision could have a significant ripple effect during the next general election, he said.

He also said giving PRCs full Bermudian rights could help the country pull out of its “economic malaise.

“If you give these people the right to be citizens, they’re more likely to invest in the community through the purchase of real estate. If they are able to invest in real estate, that helps support the rapid deterioration of mortgage books at the local banks.”

The OBA-led government has appealed a May judicial ruling that means such individuals could be granted full Bermudian status. 

Attorney General Trevor Moniz and Minister of Home Affairs Michael Fahy did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

 PRC holders already have full freedom of employment. They are individuals who have lived on the island since at least July 31, 1989. Supreme Chief Justice Ian Kawaley’s May ruling meant such individuals could be granted full Bermudian status. 

Some 1,455 people would be eligible under the clause that triggered the chief justice’s recent decision. Spouses of such individuals have to be married to a Bermudian for a decade before one is eligible for status. Children of PRC holders affected by the ruling would deemed to have status only if they are under 22.

The PLP, meanwhile, has maintained that changing Bermuda’s immigration regulations via judicial dictums is not a desirable way to reform such rules. They are holding a series of community meetings about immigration; another one is scheduled for Thursday in the East End.

Walton Brown, a PLP MP and shadow minister for immigration, suggested the OBA’s decision to appeal the ruling — something the PLP called for — was a hollow political maneuver. 

“They expect to lose,” he said.  “They like the idea of Bermuda status being granted for 4,000 people because they feel it provides some benefit to them.”

Mr Pires concurred, saying, “The OBA wants to be seen as actually exploring all the judicial routes before they decide which way to go.”

Mr Brown doubts the matter will make its way to the Privy Council of the United Kingdom. The appeal, he said, does not appear to be a prudent use of taxpayer money, when the issue could be dealt with by amending immigration legislation.

“I would doubt it would get to that,” he said. “The legal argument was sound, that’s why we proposed amending the legislation.”

He rejected a question about whether the PLP was taking a protectionist stance. 

“We called for a review of the policy. That is a progressive stance. That cannot be a serious question.”

Asked if he thought the matter was simply a matter of politics, racial politics specifically, he replied “Anyone who argues that point would have to argue the reverse: that the OBA would stand to gain from this change. You’ll notice that has not been the cornerstone of my argument.”

The OBA, for one has downplayed any notion that granting PRC holders Bermudian status would necessarily benefit one party.

Michael Markham, a retired former political consultant for the PLP and a PRC holder, said race is at the heart of the discussion.

“When you peel back the onion, the issue is one of race,” he said. “What is really behind this is a fear of future of change of immigration that is not under their (PLP’s) control.” 

If someone is born here, said Mr Markham, they should have Bermuda status “without filling out any forms. You have a right to be a son or daughter of the soil,” he said.

One PRC holder, who requested anonymity because he is applying for Bermudian status and fears reprisals that would affect his career should he be named, said he thought the PLP was “afraid of losing votes”.

“They’re disguising it as other issues,” he said.

“There is a certain element that the white man is going to take over and take jobs from black Bermudians,” he said. “There’s a certain element in the PLP that tries to skew it that way.”