Thu, Dec 28, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Government not acting for rights of immigrants

By Bruce Liao 廖元豪

At an event held at the Presidential Office for foreign spouses last week, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) said that foreign spouses are a part of Taiwanese society and that the government cannot shirk its duty to protect their human rights.

We can only admire these enlightening words, which once again demonstrate the diversity and openness of Chen's views on human rights.

But for all people fighting for human rights, the talk given soon after Chen's speech by the minister of the interior about establishing an immigration office to safeguard immigrant rights was laughable.

In reality, not only will the office not be helpful in protecting the rights of foreign spouses, but it may very well have a negative effect. Myself and other representatives of immigrant rights groups have on numerous occasions discussed the new Immigration Law (移民法) with officials from the Ministry of the Interior and other agencies that will be part of the new office.

The responses we received have revealed that officials view immigrants as potential criminals, using phrases like the "natural character of Taiwanese citizens" and the "burden on the country" in their arguments.

What's worse, during discussions of the chapter about the protection of immigrants' rights, the members of the ministry and other officials unabashedly expressed exclusionary attitudes.

They repeatedly told immigrant rights organizations that "We [the future immigration office] should only be responsible for `investigation.'"

"Not even the human rights of Taiwanese are protected, so why should those of foreign spouses be protected?" they asked.

With this kind of attitude, what chance do we have of effectively protecting immigrant rights, as Chen talked about?

The proposed immigration office is only an agency, while the real key to safeguarding human rights lies in the content of the law that it will implement -- the Immigration Law.

Not only does the Immigration Law not contain a single word about protecting immigrants' human rights, but it also empowers the foreign affairs police to use completely inappropriate procedures, disregard the principle of proportionality and ignore family relations in dealing with married immigrants.

Furthermore, not only does the Cabinet's draft amendment not resolve this problem, but it strengthens the powers of the original law's provisions to arrest, conduct visitations, question and impose judicial sanctions.

What does any of this have to do with protecting human rights?

Will domestic violence against foreign spouses drop after the immigration office opens? Will politicians and the media stop smearing them? When doing business or applying for jobs, will they no longer face discrimination?

Some may assume that inviting new immigrants to sing at the Presidential Office is equivalent to defending human rights, but it is not.

The real problem is that the law and the Cabinet's revisions are completely unconcerned with human rights.

If we really want to protect immigrants from being victimized, it will take more than just words from the president.

We need to establish explicit protections against discrimination and exploitation from the public and private sectors, and the immigration office must actively protect immigrants from abuse.

A comprehensive human rights amendment to the Immigration Law is needed. Otherwise the establishment of a special agency to manage immigrants simply makes a mockery of Chen's grand speech.

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