Tough New Immigration Laws Planned

TV New Zealand, August 8, 2007

Tough new powers to make it easier to deport unwarranted immigrants and refugees deemed a risk to New Zealand have been unveiled by the government.

The proposed rules are aimed at stopping people deemed a security risk from entering the country and the controversial changes are being described as the biggest shake up of immigration law in 20 years.

New Zealanders returning home from overseas could soon have their picture taken by immigration officials in the wide range of reforms in the new Immigration Bill.

Immigration Minister David Cunliffe says it is the biggest rewrite of immigration law for two decades.

Under the proposed laws biometric information such as iris scans and fingerprints from foreigners will be able to collected from people as they cross our borders. In the case of New Zealand citizens it will be restricted to photographs for identity verification.

Cunliffe says the use of the technology is an extra security tool and brings NZ in line with practices used overseas.

Cunliffe also says the government will establish an independent appeals body and a detention system. The minister says there will be safeguards to ensure the use of secret information gathered isn’t abused. He says the bill is consistent with the Bill of Rights.

“Changes in this Bill will clarify and strengthen border security, tighten the law against those who pose a risk to New Zealand’s wellbeing, and facilitate the entry of those migrants we want,” Cunliffe says.

“It allows Classified Information to be used in immigration, refugee, and protection decisions. We will have a robust new international protection regime, a world-class independent appeals system, and a model detention system that will uphold human rights and high standards of fairness.”

Cunliffe says significant global changes have taken place since the present law was passed in 1987 with greater flows of people around the world, greater global competition for skills, talent, and labour and heightened risks and pressures on the border.

The new bill also makes it easier to hold people who may pose a security risk. Immigrants or refugees could be detained for four days without a warrant and officials will be given new powers.

“Designated immigration officers will also have powers of entry inspection and search. They will not have powers of arrest or seizure,” says Cunliffe.

Green MP Keith Locke says instead of increasing fairness in the immigration system, the bill increases the power of immigration officials.

He says New Zealand seems to be competing with America to be the first to get to a surveillance state. Locke says he doubts most New Zealanders would want to have their biometric details on file, which could be sent around the world.

Prime Minister Helen Clark rejects claims by the Greens that the changes are akin to a big-brother society. She says it’s important to keep a balance between protection of individual rights and the protection of society and she believes the bill reaches that balance.

The government is confident it will have the numbers in parliament for the bill to become law.

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