Six months ago, the government launched a review of the Immigration Act. I was not impressed with the proposals in the discussion document, and I am even less impressed with the government's decisions. Pretty much everything you need to know about it can be surmised from New Zealand First's reaction of calling it "a step in the right direction". While there is some good news, the control-freaks at Immigration got almost everything on their wishlist. And this will make our immigration system more vicious, more unfair, and more arbitrary, with less oversight, less accountability, and substantially greater potential for injustice.
First, the good news, such as it is: Firstly, the Convention Against Torture and ICCPR will be fully integrated into Immigration law (alongside the Refugee Convention), with explicit recognition of the ban on refoulement and deportation to torture or execution. However, the government will retain the option of deportation to a "safe" country when faced with having to protect someone they regard as "undesirable" - in other words, of wiping their hands of the obligations we have agreed to accept and dumping our problems on other countries. Clearly, the government is as committed to our fundamental human rights obligations as it is to our obligation to prosecute war criminals - i.e. not at all. Secondly, there will be no health exclusion in legislation. However, it will still remain in policy, and we will still turn away people on the grounds that they might be a "burden" on the health system, regardless of their merits or needs. Eve van Grafhorst must be turning in her grave. Thirdly, applicants must still be given reasons for decisions, and access to and a chance to respond to "potentially prejudicial information", as is required by the principles of natural justice. However, this is completely undermined by a decision to allow the use of classified information in immigration and deportation proceedings. While there are "safeguards", including non-classified summaries "if possible" and the use of "special advocates" to respond to classified evidence, these are not sufficient to ensure that classified "evidence" is properly tested, or that basic standards of justice and fairness are met - a fact which has caused British lawyers to refuse to serve as special advocates as they are forbidden from effectively representing their clients. This is one of the basic injustices of the Ahmed Zaoui case, and the government is now planning to inflict it upon even more people. Clearly, they've learned absolutely nothing from the whole saga.
And that's the good news, remember. The bad news is truly horrifying. Deportation thresholds will be lowered, and "permanent" residency retrospectively revocable on receipt of new information. Time-limits for appeals have been tightened, with a consequent undermining of justice and loss of accountability for decision making. The Chief Executive of the Department of Immigration - an unaccountable bureaucrat - will get a blank cheque to define search and entry powers through Order In Council - meaning that immigration officers could gain the power to kick in doors to look for suspected overstayers, without those powers being debated transparently in Parliament by representatives who can be held accountable through the electoral system. Detention periods will be increased, and judicial oversight decreased, solely for reasons of administrative convenience. Detention of refugee claimants will be permitted, and indefinite detention will be allowed where people refuse to cooperate in being deported back to torture and death (as in the case of Thomas Yadegary). Oh, and Immigration will get to run its own jails. No wonder New Zealand First is happy.
As a final note, the government wants to give the Department of Immigration the power to fingerprint New Zealand citizens at the border. So at some stage in the future, we could end up being fingerprinted (and having our fingerprints put on file, and shared with other agencies) not on being charged with a crime, but simply to re-enter our own country. This is simply grossly intrusive, and a violation of people's privacy. We don't allow the police to go around randomly fingerprinting people, and we shouldn't allow Immigration to do it either. International travel is not a crime, and kiwis taking overseas holidays should not be treated as criminals - no matter how convenient it is for the Immigration Service.