Immigration NZ has been put on notice over early-morning raids on the homes of overstayers, writes Catherine McGregor in this excerpt from The Bulletin, The Spinoff’s morning news round-up. To receive The Bulletin in full each weekday, sign up here.
In 2023, an echo of the inhumane dawn raids of the 1970s
In the early hours of the morning, police came to the door of a Tongan man living in South Auckland who had overstayed his visa. According to his lawyer, the family were still asleep, and the children downstairs were the first to hear people banging on the door. “They were terrified … and crying and very, very upset and scared” as their father was taken into custody, Soane Foliaki told RNZ’s Morning Report. The incident sounds very much like one of the infamous dawn raids of the 1970s, but it happened just last week. Foliaki first spoke about the case on Tagata Pasifika on Saturday; in the days since Immigration NZ has admitted the early morning raid was not a one-off – “18 or 19″ interactions with “customers” between July 2022 and April 2023 have occurred “outside of hours”, equivalent to around 3% of all interactions. “Early morning visits are paid when Immigration does not believe the person will be home during the day,” RNZ reports, but Foliaki says the tactics are straight from the dawn raids playbook. “This raid was no different from any other raid in the ’70s.”
An apology that some say now rings hollow
The news comes nearly two years after former prime minister Jacinda Ardern made an official public apology for the dawn raids. “Residents in those homes were woken abruptly, physically removed from their beds and forced into police vans to be taken for questioning,” she said in her speech, expressing the government’s “sorrow, remorse, and regret” for the policy. Asked about it yesterday, immigration minister Michael Wood said the government apology applied to a “massive systemic approach of dawn raids across the whole community”, while he expected the current use of out-of-hours deportations was “only in those small number of extreme cases where there is no other option”. Alison McDonald, who heads Immigration NZ, says “any visits outside of standard hours” will have to be personally authorised by her from now on. Prime minister Chris Hipkins says he found the news of the pre-dawn arrests concerning. “Those aren’t the sorts of tactics that I would expect us to be using in New Zealand.”
Calls for an overstayer amnesty
In light of the latest events, the Green Party is renewing its calls for the government to grant amnesty to the roughly 14,000 people estimated to have overstayed their visas. Pacific leaders have also petitioned the government for an amnesty policy, and many had hoped the 2021 apology would provide the momentum their campaign needed. It’s not the first time the issue has come up. In 2000 the government granted amnesty to NZ’s then 7,000 overstayers. At the time, immigration minister Lianne Dalziel said: “You have to ask whether people who are well-settled, tax-paying, law-abiding people with strong family and community connections should in fact be sent ‘home’ when ‘home’ is really New Zealand.” Wood says he will make a decision on current overstayers “quite soon”. On The Spinoff this morning, Madeleine Chapman writes that “whatever his decision, the practice of arresting overstayers in their homes at dawn will continue to be a source of trauma for Pacific people, no matter how nicely worded the ‘visits’ are or how often the prime minister of the time apologises”.
Seasonal workers among those affected
A significant proportion of overstayers are likely to have arrived in the country on the Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme, which has been criticised for allowing worker abuse through lax oversight and a lack of regulation. In December, a damning Human Rights Commission report found that some workers were living in conditions that amounted to modern-day slavery. The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment is conducting a full review of the policy, with its recommendations scheduled to go before cabinet in June.