Summary deportation must not be made legal in our so called civilised democracy

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The Immigration Residency and Protection Bill passed the Second Stage in the Dail last week.  This brings the legal basis for summary deportation without notice of anyone found to be illegally resident in Ireland, a step closer to becoming reality.

The Bill was originally intended to update and bring all immigration rules under one piece of enabling legislation. However what we have ended up with is a deeply flawed, badly written, cobbled together, contradictory and problem generating legal document. And this is despite the original Bill having been withdrawn for redrafting last year.

While there are many problematic aspects to the Bill the main objection is a provision which allows for the summary deportation of migrants and those in need of protection, without any notice or right to appeal the decision.

The present situation is that the person must be first notified of the Minister for Justices intention to have the person deported.  This gives the person an opportunity to either leave voluntarily or make a case to the Minister why s/he should be allowed to remain within a 15 day period.  This will no longer be the case if the Bill is passed in its current format.

Under the new Bill a member of the Garda Síochána must merely be ‘satisfied that a foreign national is unlawfully present in the State.’  To date it was only the Minister for Justice who had the authority to issue a deportation order.  Effectively the decision making power to have a person removed from the state is being moved from the Minister for Justice to Immigration officers and members of the Garda Síochána.

We know the danger of giving too much power to any one group or person and our own history should remind us of the injustices caused by the practice of deporting people without due process or a fair hearing.

The use of arbitrary power is considered anathema to the rule of law.  Yet we are about to witness the legalisation of substantial unchecked powers being given to a police force and no formal mechanism in place to either appeal their decisions  or monitor how they enforce their decisions.

MRCI has worked with hundreds of people over the past few years who have become undocumented through no fault of their own i.e. through administrative delays in processing work permits, exploitation, forced labour and trafficking in human beings.  Imagine a situation where such a person comes into contact with a Guard who decides that this person should be summarily removed because s/he cannot produce a passport with an up to date residency permit.

This Bill effectively creates the conditions for serious miscarriages of justice to occur.  The proposal stands in sharp contrast with the rules governing extradition of convicted criminals.  A person facing extradition must receive 14 days notice and information on his or her rights in a format and language that can be easily understood.

Speaking to migrant workers this week, the overriding feeling being expressed is that no person irrespective of their status now feels safe in Ireland.  This Bill has the effect of undermining years of integration work.  All immigrants including Black Irish citizens are being placed at risk of ethnic profiling and institutional racism.

The walls of tribunal rooms and counts could be papered with the reports carried out on the abuse of power by the police and institutional racism towards Black and ethnic minority communities e.g. the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry.  It does not take too much imagination to realise how an unchecked power such as the right to have a person summarily deported could be used both as a threat and as a potential method of abuse.

The only manner in which a decision to deport can be challenged will be through the judicial review process.  Of course this will mean very little to those who have been removed from the country.  However there is no doubt there will be many, many attempts to secure injunctions and to have decisions judicially reviewed.

Apart from clogging up the court system, it is a well known fact that judicial reviews are extremely costly, in particular for the state.  A comment from one legal professional this week is telling: ‘this will result in a bonanza for immigration lawyers’.

Allowing for summary deportations is also contrary to 2008 Supreme Court Rulings and ignores a recommendation from the UN Human Rights Committee which urged Ireland to outlaw summary deportations as they are contrary to international law.

What is really worrying is that so few of our elected leaders have any difficulty with legislating for a law that tramples on an individual’s civil and fundamental rights.  Perhaps they were hoping no one would notice.

Siobhán O’ Donoghue is the Director of Migrant Rights Centre Ireland

Coalition oppose proposed new Immigration Bill at Dáil Eireann 6th October 2010