Sunday, January 08, 2006

Immigration's institutionalised cruelty

The Sunday Star Times this morning has a story about the latest embarrassing incident of institutionalised cruelty from the Immigration Service. An elderly Iraqi couple have been denied a visitor visa to visit their sick son in hospital because of "insufficient proof" that they will return to Iraq. So how much proof is sufficient? Immigration doesn't seem to know:

"Always (immigration) ask for evidence. We bring them more evidence and more evidence. When we ask which evidence they need they say they do not know which evidence. We have no idea why they were refused," [their son] said.

In an effort to get out of this Kafkaesque game, they approached their local MP for help. After offering a personal guarantee that the couple were genuine (and the deed to the son's house as a bond if the parents did not return to Iraq), he got the real reason why entry was being refused:

"the department then used the argument that they are genuine, but what if while they were here a general civil war broke out in Iraq and they could not send them back?"

So the risk isn't so much that they might deliberately become overstayers; it's that it might happen inadvertently, due to circumstances beyond their control. And this is deemed sufficient to deny people entry to the country. The cruelty and injustice of this ought to be apparent to all: it is axiomatic to any moral system that you cannot hold people morally responsible or punish them for something which is not of their doing or not their fault. But perhaps more telling is the fact that this precautionary stance against possible inadvertent overstayers isn't even consistently applied. There is a high risk of a bird flu outbreak in South East Asia - high enough that the government has laid down concrete plans to lock people up to die when it happens - and yet we happily continue to accept thousands of visitors from countries in the highest-risk areas, despite the fact that they would not be able to return in the event of an epidemic.

So why is the Immigration Service making such cruel and seemingly arbitrary decisions? The answer is Winston Peters. For over a decade, he has targeted the Immigration Service in Parliament, howling at the slightest perceived slip-up. Faced with this, Immigration seems to have adopted a "better safe than sorry" approach, leading to ridiculous and cruel situations such as that faced by former All Black Dean Kenny (who faced exactly the same Kafkaesque demands for further "evidence", none of which was ever sufficient to prove his marriage was real). Sami Said and his parents are just the latest victims of this precautionary principle - and given that other political parties seem unwilling to stand up to Winston's constant baiting on immigration, they will not be the last.


I/S: The reality is they are in the risk profile. You seem to be saying we should have none at all. It was the same policies that led to rugby players from Tonga assuring immigration they were legit - and then most of the team promptly absconded once here. Thailand had it's visa-free entry removed because of all the illegal workers. Until recently there was a cap on Chinese students too because the risk of another Tianamen Square happening and they all decide to defect. Zimbos faced the same restrictions too (did Winston get that withdrawn?). Czechs have been under scutiny as I understand because of some of the stunts their citizens have pulled. These things that maybe only a minority of people do affect others - and people fall into risk groups through no fault of their own - but they are still a high risk regardless.

Any sort of screening/visa system will have these issues.

"it's that it might happen inadvertently, due to circumstances beyond their control. And this is deemed sufficient to deny people entry to the country. The cruelty and injustice of this ought to be apparent to all: it is axiomatic to any moral system that you cannot hold people morally responsible or punish them for something which is not of their doing or not their fault." - Well after all the wailing and moral outrage - YES, YOU CAN. We do it all the time as well. An individual 17 year old may be OK - but overall we don't want every under 18 year old to get into a bar - and we make a general rule. Is that a bad rule? Do individual circumstances need to be catered for for it to be ethical. Epeleptics driving cars or operating heavy machinery? What is the risk profile? Do we need a method of individual exemption - and then who is fit to make it... Hard calls. But these bureaucrats have a duty to do so. We do not (and never should ever) operate a completely "open" system on an everyone can visit/everyone can stay basis - that is what it sounds like sometimes when people argue for exemptions; it seems everyone is worthy of an out.

There is an issue about how the procedure and whether it is applied with fairness. These a real situations and represent real risks. That must be acknowledged. Immigration throw people out or deny them residency because of things like likelihood of disease and healthcare costs. And deny people access whom they suspect of coming here just to use our systems eg. healthcare, education etc. That is harsh and cruel to the individuals concerned esp. if they have family here - but too bad - that does not entitle them to preferential treatment. Far too many family reunification elderly imports already.

As for the bond agreement - I wonder what powers and authorisations are necessary for that to really happen. It sounds like a fantastical promise.

Maybe Immigration should be more upfront about who and why and how they make their policies and supply data to support it. It would also be right to inform immigrants about the rules about family also to make it clear what the situation is. Or does this already exist?

The other issue is if it is true that these parents represent an unacceptable immigration risk (ie. becoming an overstayer or refugee) then isn't it also true that the immigrants themselves should be excluded because of the secondary risks they have of having their parents/family in a situation where they will be pressuring the immigration service for special treatment? (I know you would see it as the dignity of equal treatment, but IF it were true... ) If they are those sorts of people then does it not follow that they also should be excluded from residency and removed?

Posted by Bomber : 1/08/2006 11:40:00 PM

Well I think its pretty disgusting. To have a child sick in hospital in another country must be extremely worrying for these poor old people and then to have to deal with a Catch 22 style buerocracy on top of it, is just horrible.

And even in the worst case scenario, would the world end if these people did stay in New Zealand? I don't see it.

Posted by Amanda : 1/09/2006 08:26:00 AM

I'm with MTNW, these people should be allowed to see their son, it's cruel to deny them on a possibility of their country entering civil war. And so what if they stay, we can handle that, we are, after all, not Australia.

Posted by Muerk : 1/09/2006 09:57:00 AM

The last two comments are exactly what I am talking about:

"would the world end if these people did stay in New Zealand? I don't see it." and "And so what if they stay, we can handle that". - that attitude is the crux of the problem. We have serious problems ahead with an aging population and have so many overstayers they can't even accurately calculate the number c.20,000.

And if they did grant them that request it becomes (literally) all on for young and old. This is not just an issue of two parents. What immigrant wouldn't suddenly fall ill or have some sort of a crisis that involves getting their parents and relatives here if we were lax? There are thousands of elderly getting in through the family reunification category already - far too many.

The bond thing is a total ruse - who would enforce the bond - who would sell their house given they now have two elderly parents to look after? It is an empty promise.

I remind people that in the case of the Tongan rugby team that they begged, promised and assured Immigration that they were legit because their risk profile was so high. After reassurances from prominent people in the Tongan community etc. and granting them visas, what happened? They went AWOL. Immigration has been burnt before with these empty assurances - they must learn from their mistakes.

Posted by Bomber : 1/09/2006 12:12:00 PM

Oh, c'mon, if you _really_ want to solve the aged population demographic try banning chemical contraceptives unless for medical reasons. Or having financial incentives for people having children.

As if some refugees or immigrants and their parents are going to wack out an already existing problem, I don't think so.

Posted by Muerk : 1/09/2006 07:00:00 PM

The fact is, immigrants have a substantially lower average age than the existing population. Increasing immigration is about the only practical way of avoiding higher taxes, reduced pensions or an increased retirement age in the future.

Posted by Rich : 1/10/2006 01:21:00 PM