Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Immigration Bill: reported back

The Transport and Industrial Relations Committee has reported back [PDF; large] on the government's Immigration Bill. And to be fair, they have improved it in at least one area: the torture clause (which would have required those claiming protection under the Convention Against Torture to prove that they faced greater risk than usual in their country, thus making it far easier to deport people to torture) is gone, replaced with clauses which more accurately reflect New Zealand's human rights obligations. Unfortunately, the rest of the bill remains virtually unchanged, and in some cases has been made actively worse:

  • It still allows the use of secret evidence in immigration decisions. Such evidence must now be "balanced", and include any information which might help the client, but as there is no effective way of policing it, the requirement is effectively a joke. Summaries must now be given, but they're a joke too. And if information cannot be summarised, it cannot (officially) be relied upon - but that doesn't stop it from effectively poisoning the well against a client, causing the Minister to view other evidence in a different light. None of these "safeguards" apply if the decision is discretionary, of course - and one of the "features" of the new bill is that it has significantly increased the number of such decisions.
  • The bill retains special advocates as a "safeguard" to represent clients in cases where classified information is used. However, they are still forbidden from talking to their clients after they have learned what the government wants to hide - a fact which prevents them from any effective challenge. They are a fig leaf for unfairness, nothing more.
  • The blanket ban on entry to someone deported from or refused entry to another country (for whatever reason, good, bad, or stupid) remains unchanged.
  • There is now a blanket ban on the courts granting bail to immigration detainees, to prevent them from "undermining" the law by applying the Bill of Rights Act. This means there is no effective oversight on the discretion of immigration officers to order detention.
  • The security clause is retained, allowing any non-citizen to be arbitrarily arrested and indefinitely detained on the (not effectively reviewable) decision of an immigration or police officer that they are a "risk to security" - even if they have lived here for decades.
  • The current system of indefinite detention is retained, with clauses added again to prevent the courts from "undermining" it by applying the BORA. There is now a presumption that detention will go on forever. And courts must still regard all classified information as accurate when deciding on detention, no matter how transparently false it is.
Basically, the bill has not been changed in any substantive way since its first reading, and as such, it is unsalvageable. It must be defeated. Please write to your MP today.

(Gordon Campbell has more here)