July 2008


On “human rights” grounds

Law Lords have ruled the home secretary cannot use controversial powers to stop sham marriages as they discriminate against foreigners in the UK. They said the Home Office had interfered in an “arbitrary and unjust” way in the rights of 15,000 people.

Ministers said the rules were vital to tackle illegal immigration scams – but conceded they will need to be reformed. The measures were brought in after registrars complained they they had no way of stopping bogus marriage rackets. But many foreign nationals said they were being treated unfairly, and that the scheme was unnecessary, slow and bureaucratic. They also said it was expensive – the regulations meant they had to pay up to $1200 in fees to get permission to marry.

The controversial Home Office powers on marriages were introduced in February 2005. The rules meant people who were not legally permanently settled in the UK were obliged to seek special permission to marry, irrespective of the status of their partner. But the powers were challenged in April 2006 when three couples alleged their human rights had been breached.

In the first case the home secretary refused permission to marry to Mahmoud Baiai, 37, an Algerian illegal immigrant, and Izabella Trzcinska, 28, from Poland, who was in the UK legally. The two other cases related to asylum seekers – including one individual who had been told to leave the country, but wanted to marry someone already given protection as a refugee. All three were later given permission to marry.

In his ruling against the Home Office, Lord Bingham said immigration rules, as well as the right to respect for family life under the European Convention, gave protection to some migrants who marry in the UK – even if they had limited or no leave to enter or stay.

He added that the Immigration Directorate had issued instructions, without clear parliamentary approval, to deny permission to marry under certain circumstances. “The vice of the scheme is that none of these conditions, although of course relevant to immigration status, has any relevance to the genuineness of a proposed marriage,” he said.

The ruling was welcomed by some campaigners – the chief executive of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, Habib Rahman, said the government’s policy was now in “tatters”. He added: “It’s a great day for human rights, for justice and for migrant communities… The government will have to go back to the drawing board.” Solicitor Amit Sachdev, who represented three of the claimants in the case, described the marriage legislation as “draconian… misconceived and ill thought-out”.

The scale of sham marriages is unknown, although senior registrars suggested that before the new legislation there could have been at least 10,000 a year. Registrars at Brent Council in north London suggested in 2005 that a fifth of all marriages there were bogus, with officials able to spot couples who barely knew each other.

According to Home Office figures, since the new checks were introduced the number of suspicious marriage reports received from registrars fell from 3,740 in 2004 to fewer than 300 by the end of May 2005. Between January and August 2006, there were only 149 such reports, it said.

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Foreign students who miss more than 10 lectures in a row will be reported to the Government under new plans to crack down on illegal immigration. However, foreigners will be able to avoid the new requirements if they opt to enter the UK as a “student visitor”, rather than under a student visa.

The Conservatives said that this was a potential loophole which could be exploited by unscrupulous immigrants who had no intention of studying here. The moves were announced by the immigration minister Liam Byrne as part of a shake-up of the student visa system to crack down on bogus colleges. Universities and colleges will also have to apply for a $800 licence to recruit international students and could be blacklisted if they fail to comply with new regulations.

The proposals form Tier 4 of the Government’s new points-based immigration system. It will force colleges offering courses longer than six months to accept responsibility for a student while he or she is in the UK. They will have to keep up-to-date contact details for all students and report to the Home Office if a student misses 10 lectures in a row, fails to enrol on time or quits college. If this happened to a number of students, the Home Office would consider the college’s “overall suitability” as a licensed college to teach international students.

Once accepted on a course by a licensed college, each student will have to prove to the UK Border Agency that he or she has enough money to pay their fees and support themselves and any dependants. They will also have to prove they have a track record in achieving qualifications before coming to the UK. If successful they will be allowed to stay in the UK for up to four years, longer than under present rules. They will also be allowed to work in the country for up to two years after completing their studies – 12 months more than at present, as discloseed by The Daily Telegraph yesterday.

Immigration minister Liam Byrne said: “All those who come to Britain must play by the rules. It is right that foreign students wanting to take advantage of our world-class universities and colleges must meet strict criteria. “By locking people to one identity with ID cards, alongside a tough new sponsorship system, we will know exactly who is coming here to study and crack down on bogus colleges.”

In 2006, 309,000 people from outside Europe came to Britain on student visas – but this figure does not include those coming as short-term student visitors. The Home Office said that student visitors had to pass an “intentions test” showing they support themselves and will leave after completing their course.

But shadow immigration minister Damian Green said: “This new system is so full of loopholes it will be useless at best and might even encourage the growth of bogus colleges or applications.”

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These are the guys who constantly condemn Israel but who have yet to utter a single condemnation of human rights abuses in Muslim countries

The UN Human Rights Committee has slammed France’s immigration policies and expressed concern about overcrowding and poor conditions in its prisons, according to documents seen by AFP. It also asked France to re-examine a new law under which people deemed a threat to society can be kept in prison – possibly for the rest of their lives – even after they have served out their full sentence.

The criticisms came in a text dated July 22, addressed to the French state by the Geneva-based international committee of jurists. It “noted with concern” that many asylum-seekers and would-be immigrants were held in “inappropriate premises” in airports and elsewhere. It regretted that France had not opened any enquiries into allegations of ill-treatment of foreigners in prisons and so-called “retention centres” where asylum-seekers and illegal immigrants are held. Nor did French authorities “punish as is fitting the authors” of such ill-treatment, the document by the committee said.

French authorities also failed to properly inform people held in these centres of their rights, such as their right to request asylum, and they also sent people back to their home countries even when “their integrity was in danger” there, it said.

The UN Human Rights Committee also said it was worried by the “overcrowding and poor conditions that reign” in prisons in France. This month, the number of people in prisons here hit a historic high of 64,250, according to official figures. The latest figures for the number of places in the country’s 200 jails have not been released, but last month there were just over 50,000 available spots.

The UN body said France should limit the amount of time people can spend in jail while waiting for trial, noting that in terrorism and organised crime cases this can be as much as four years and eight months.

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These were the policies that stemmed the flow of “boat people” (illegals arriving on small boats). Now that they have nothing much to fear, the illegals will start coming again

Mandatory detention for asylum-seekers has been eased under changes to immigration policy announced by the Government today. “A person who poses no danger to the community will be able to remain in the community while their visa status is resolved,” Immigration Minster Chris Evans said. Mandatory detention would apply only to those arriving by boat for health, identity and security checks, or those considered a risk to national security or health.

Legal assistance would be offered to those arriving by boat and they could have an independent review of unfavourable decisions. Children would also not be detained in immigration detention centres.

“The department will have to justify why a person should be detained,” Senator Evans said. “Once in detention a detainee’s case will be reviewed every three months to ensure that the further detention of the individual is justified.

Senator Evans said the Government would still retain its right to deport refugees. “People who have no right to be here and those who are found not to be owed protection under Australia’s international obligations will be removed.”

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Remember immigration? The issue seems so six-months ago now that foreclosure rates and gas prices have teamed-up to weigh down the economy. Republican hopeful for governor Sarah Steelman, though, believes the debate still has enough political punch to make it the focus of her latest ad, which comes with Election Day just over a week away.

The ad praises Steelman’s record on immigration, and, predictably, disparages her primary rival, U.S. Rep. Kenny Hulshof. Steelman credits herself with forcing a company using illegal immigrants to replace the workers with local employees. This is fairly accurate: As state treasurer, Steelman threatened to withhold $1.4 million in tax credits from a St. Charles County construction site where illegal immigrants were discovered.

On the other side, Steelman takes a bit more liberties with her attack on Hulshof. True, Hulshof did vote against a measure that prohibited authorizing funds on inspections that would allow Mexican trucks into the U.S. (Sorry for all of the double-negatives — that’s Beltway speak for you.) But the Democratic-sponsored amendment was more a union-backed attempt to bolster American jobs than, as Steelman suggests, a crackdown on smuggling.

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Voodoo immigration?

Last year, when Sen. Barack Obama was making the circuit of conventions for journalists of color, the question was whether the prospective candidate was black enough. This year, when he appeared before the UNITY: Journalists of Color convention in Chicago, the presumptive Democratic nominee joked, “I’m too black.”

Obama appeared Sunday at the close of the convention in a session aired live on CNN to talk about his observations from his trip to the Middle East and Europe, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. economy and questions from the journalists about faith, affirmative action, immigration and apologies for slavery and to Native Americans.

Asked whether he thought too many immigrants had been allowed into the U.S. and “who should be allowed” into the country, Obama said the issue wasn’t whether to let immigrants in but to develop an official policy that makes it easier to become legal and discourages illegal immigration and penalizes employers who use illegal immigrants to avoid paying fair wages. He also said there should be greater equity across the board for immigrants as well, pointing out that “it’s much harder for Haitians to immigrate, despite similar circumstances in need” as other groups that have been admitted legally.

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Manuel Castillo was driving a truck through Alabama hauling onions and left with a $500 ticket for something he didn’t think he was doing: speaking English poorly. Castillo, 50, who was stopped on his way back to California, said he knows federal law requires him to be able to converse in English with an officer but he thought his language skills were good enough to avoid a ticket. Still, Castillo said he plans to pay the maximum fine of $500 rather than return to Alabama to fight the ticket. “It just doesn’t seem fair to be ticketed if I wasn’t doing anything dangerous on the road,” he said.

Federal law requires that anyone with a commercial driver license speak English well enough to talk with police. Authorities last year issued 25,230 tickets nationwide for violations. Now the federal government is trying to tighten the English requirement, saying the change is needed for safety reasons. Most states let truckers and bus drivers take at least part of their license tests in languages other than English. But the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has proposed rules requiring anyone applying for a commercial driver license to speak English during their road test and vehicle inspection. The agency wants to change its rules to eliminate the use of interpreters, and congressional approval isn’t required.

Drivers could still take written tests in other languages in states where that is allowed, and they wouldn’t have to be completely fluent during the road test, said Bill Quade, an associate administrator with the agency. “Our requirement is that drivers understand English well enough to respond to a roadside officer and to be able to converse,” said Quade, who heads enforcement. Drivers need to be able to communicate with authorities about their loads and their vehicles, he said. A handful of states and organizations supports the change, and no one opposed the new rule in comments submitted to the agency.

The rule change, which Quade said would likely take effect next year, could particularly affect the nation’s fast-growing Spanish-speaking population. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated last year that more than 17 percent of the nation’s 3.4 million truck drivers were Hispanic, as were more than 11 percent of its 578,000 bus drivers. It’s unknown how many speak both Spanish and English.

The issue of English-speaking drivers also could become larger if the Bush administration succeeds with efforts to make it easier for trucks to enter the United States from Mexico. Trucks already are allowed to enter border areas under a pilot program.

An Alabama state trooper thought Castillo couldn’t speak English well enough to drive an 18-wheeler when he was headed back to California from picking up onions in Glennville, Ga. A driver for 20 years, Castillo was stopped in west Alabama for a routine inspection. Castillo, who says he speaks English at roughly a third-grade level, said he understood when the trooper asked him where he was heading and to see his commercial driver license and registration. He said he responded in English, though he has an accent. Castillo wasn’t speeding, and the inspection and computer check turned up no offenses, so he was surprised to get a ticket for being a “non-English speaking driver.” “I had heard that Congress had passed that law, so I knew people were getting tickets,” he said in an interview in Spanish. “But it didn’t seem fair to me because I was communicating fine with him. I don’t know a lot of things, but when it comes to my work I understand everything people say to me.” Castillo, a permanent U.S. resident who lives near Fresno, said he took his California license test in Spanish because it’s the language he’s most comfortable speaking.

Jan Mendoza of the California Department of Motor Vehicles said the state gives the written test in both English and Spanish, but the roadside portion of the exam is in English only because of the federal rule. Limiting the road portion of the CDL test to English-only conversation would help eliminate drivers who don’t speak English well enough to talk to an officer on the roadside, Quade said. He sees no conflict in continuing to let applicants take the written test in languages other than English. “The level of English proficiency we are looking for at the roadside is basic. The (written) CDL is a whole different level. There’s multiple choice, fairly in-depth quarters that require more of an understanding of the English language.”

English-only testing for commercial licenses is limited to just seven states, according to the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, which tracks the issue. Those include Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon, South Dakota, West Virginia, Wyoming and Missouri, which recently passed the rule, according to the group. The OOIDA supports the English-language rules for commercial drivers, as does the American Trucking Association, said spokesman Clayton Boyce.

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