Sweeping Overhaul For Immigration Law (New Zealand)

Sweeping overhaul for immigration law

The New Zealand Herald
Thursday August 09, 2007

A sweeping rewrite of immigration law will overhaul the controversial provisions used to try to deport Ahmed Zaoui.

Immigration Minister David Cunliffe said the new law would streamline the process to remove illegal immigrants and make it easier for desirable migrants to enter New Zealand.

The overhaul of the 1987 Act also modernises the law to keep up with modern technology.

This includes the collection of biometric information, which Mr Cunliffe said would be limited to taking photos of New Zealanders at the border to verify their identity.

The controversial part of the legislation used to detain Mr Zaoui when he arrived in New Zealand in December 2002 and sought refugee status would be repealed. The SIS issued a security risk certificate which triggered efforts to deport Mr Zaoui.

Mr Zaoui fought the attempt saying he would be tortured or killed if he went back to Algeria, and spent almost two years in prison waiting for his case to be decided as he fought the security risk certificate.

He was declared a genuine refugee in August 2003 by the Refugee Status Appeals Authority and released on bail in December 2004.

The judicial review of the certificate is continuing, with some complaining the process is unfair because Mr Zaoui does not know the exact nature of the allegations against him.

Under the new system immigration officials would still be able to use classified information to remove unwanted would-be immigrants, but they would be entitled to a “non-classified summary” of the allegations “where possible”.

It also extends the type and source of classified information that could be used against a person – for instance from police and other government agencies.

Deportation procedures which allow for multiple appeals to different bodies will be streamlined with the creation of one body – the Immigration and Protection Tribunal.

Mr Cunliffe said it was the biggest rewrite of immigration law in two decades. “Changes in this bill will clarify and strengthen border security, tighten the law against those who pose a risk to New Zealand's well-being and facilitate the entry of those migrants we want.”

The Immigration Bill would also simplify the visa system, overhaul detention powers, give some customs officials the power to search and detain people, without a warrant, for 96 hours, bring New Zealand into line with international conventions and treaties, and allow for more information sharing between Immigration and other government departments.

Mr Cunliffe said he had indications from National that they would support the bill.

Prime Minister Helen Clark said the laws around the issuing of security certificates had needed changing.

“It's clearly proved to be pretty unworkable in practice leading to prolonged litigation and procedural wrangles,” Helen Clark said.

“The hope is that with this major new rewrite of the Immigration Act we can get some better procedures.”

National Party immigration spokesman Lockwood Smith said the law needed to be updated.

“Moves that will strengthen our border security and give immigration officials greater powers to access information are all improvements on the current system,” he said.

“But perhaps the most critical part of the bill surrounds the use of classified information.”

Dr Smith said changes would mean false refugee claims could be dealt with quickly which would save costs like those incurred in the Zaoui case.

New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters, who has long called for Mr Zaoui to be detained, said he supported the legislation even though it did not go far enough.

Mr Peters said immigration officials should be split away from the Department of Labour because of its poor record in the area.

Green MP Keith Locke said Mr Cunliffe seemed to have “weakly granted” his officials a wish list of extended powers to search, enter and detain without a warrant.

The new rules over classified information had been made too broad and it was too easy to keep them secret.

Border control

* Changes to the Immigration Act simplify the visa system, overhaul detention powers and give some customs officials the power to search and detain people, without a warrant, for 96 hours

* Officials can still use classified information to remove unwanted would-be immigrants, but newcomers can obtain a “non-classified summary” of the allegations “where possible”.



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