The plight of the exploited, deceived and abused Thai workers that first came to public attention during the Kaohsiung rapid transit system scandal has once more found its way into the news. The broker, Huapan Administration Consultant Co, sued a number of workers for damage after they rioted last August to protest what they claimed was inhumane treatment.
While Huapan's move was criticized by politicians and the public alike, it also highlighted the importance of looking at the root of the problem -- not only of abused foreign laborers but also of foreign spouses.
This problem can blamed to a large degree on the country's immigration law, which sees foreigners and immigrants as the enemy and sets up no mechanism for guaranteeing their rights. As the law stands, the vast majority of immigrant laborers and foreign wives are left with no option but to suffer exploitation and discrimination in silence.
The Immigration Law (
As a result, a large number of foreign spouses choose to endure ill-treatment and abuse, not daring to ask for a divorce. Another example is that the Immigration Law mandates that foreign spouses or foreign laborers will be deported if they contract AIDS or other forms of contagious diseases that may jeopardize public health, even if they were infected by a Taiwanese person.
A more fundamental issue is that the law does not treat foreign workers or other immigrants as a group worthy of having its rights protected. It is full of one-sided regulations about "filtering, prohibiting and deportation," but there is no mechanism for effective rights protection.
There is no need for a court decision, nor are there any procedures for neutral testimony. A residence permit can be canceled or a new permit refused and a person can be thrown into prison or deported based solely on the police's decision.
This is in complete violation of due process as stipulated in the Constitution and gives the police almost unchecked powers. Moreover, when foreign laborers suffer from illegal deductions of their salaries or have their passports confiscated, or when foreign female spouses are vilified in the press or discriminated against in the labor market due to their accent or skin color, the Immigration Law offers not a single effective channel for complaint or protection.
In my discussions with officials, I have found that while the government is willing to offer "parental" benevolence and care, it is not willing to offer foreign female spouses or foreign laborers equality or empower them by offering mechanisms through which to oppose violations of their rights.
In other words, the government would rather assign funds for aid or activities to non-
governmental groups through the Foreign Spouse Care and Counseling Fund than write an effective law against discrimination that imposes sanctions on Taiwanese who mistreat foreigners. This is the same attitude that former slave owners in the US had, when they said they could be kind and benevolent to their black slaves, but they could not accept them as their equal.
It is regrettable that the review of the amendment to the Immigration Law, which will soon take place in the Legislative Yuan, will likely only result in an immigrant management law rather than an immigrant protection law.
Even more frightening is that in situations where due process and other rights protection mechanisms are non-existent, this amendment will unilaterally strengthen the rights of law enforcement to "deal with" and supervise immigrants.
The government has shown no interest in opening a dialogue on amendments to the Immigration Law being drafted by civic groups and which emphasize the protection of immigrants' rights. Why do officials in the Ministry of Interior and the Cabinet refuse to wait for an overall review of the Immigration Law with all its cracks and holes, and deal with all the amendments in one go?
The question of whether the Immigration Law is appropriate affects the fate of foreigners, and also involves the lives of many Taiwanese spouses and families. In an era when information is spread rapidly throughout the international community, the question of rights protection for immigrants could also affect Taiwan's international image, causing the world community to look with different eyes on a nation that claims to be built on human rights. Whether Taiwan will be condemned or praised will depend on its choices.
Bruce Liao is assistant professor of law at National Chengchi University.
Translated by Paul Cooper and Perry Svensson
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