Tue, Nov 14, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Immigrants cannot be denied rights

By Bruce Liao 廖元豪

Prosecutor Eric Chen's (陳瑞仁) indictment of first lady Wu Shu-jen (吳淑珍) has given many in Taiwan's legal world a sense of pride in the justice system even in the midst of a national ruckus. But that same Friday, the Council of Grand Justices handed down Interpretation No. 618, which suggests that some citizens of the Republic of China (ROC) might not enjoy full citizenship after all -- and only because they came to Taiwan 50 years too late. The judiciary may be independent, but its lack of concern for human rights is disappointing.

The grand justices' interpretation upheld the constitutionality of Article 21 of the Cross Strait Relations Act (兩岸關係條例). According to this law, Chinese nationals must be permanent residents in Taiwan for 10 years before being eligible to become civil servants. A permanent resident is someone who holds status as a citizen living in Taiwan, carries an ROC passport and ID card, and can vote for the president. Regardless of one's political stance on whether Taiwan and China are one country or two, these permanent residents are still our countrymen. The government obviously cannot treat these genuine Taiwanese as "foreigners" or "Chinese."

The right to serve in public office and the right to vote are fundamental rights of citizens. Article 2 of the Constitution stipulates that sovereignty belongs to the whole nation, which indicates that each citizen is sovereign and owns a stake in this country. In a nation with a Constitution built on the cornerstone of "citizen sovereignty," permitting regulations that create second-class citizens to exist should be unimaginable.

The grand justices cite public servants' "duty to be loyal," as well as Chinese immigrants' inadequate understanding of a free democratic constitutional system as their reasons for supporting the law. However, this argument doesn't hold water.

First, if the government really doubted the loyalty of Chinese people as a whole or of Chinese individuals, it could refuse them citizenship. Instead, the government admits that these people are Taiwanese, yet at the same time it is scared to death they will sell out Taiwan.

This kind of attitude is simply unacceptable. People who love others are always loved in return. How can a country that practices prejudice and exclusion expect to be loved and respected back by its immigrants?

Second, those who wish to be public servants must first pass an exam, undergo training and clear several other hurdles. So on what basis can the judges say that immigrants who can pass these tests don't understand freedom and the democratic system as well as those born in Taiwan? How do they arrive at the even more outlandish conclusion that they will sell out Taiwan? If this is really true, then is the testing system and the background investigation into personal and family loyalty worthless?

Third, those who are legal permanent residents have been living in Taiwan a long time and are certainly familiar with its free and democratic system.

If they really lack an understanding of democracy, then why allow them to vote for the president? Wouldn't their vote interfere with Taiwanese politics? Isn't there a huge contradiction in the idea of being able to elect the president but not serve as a low-level civil servant? Although the US Constitution places limitations on naturalized citizens running in presidential or congressional elections, they are not restricted from becoming basic civil servants like sanitation workers and staff members.

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