So, I was pretty willing to believe Ian Lees Galloway had made a mistake as immigration minister, and tried to do a reasonable but compassionate thing and simply failed to have all the evidence ready when he decided to let Karel Sroubek conditionally stay in the country.
In reality, we learned today, it turns out the reason the Nats knew so much about this case not because the information was legitimately “in the public domain” like they stated, but because one of their members who ran for a local board is the new partner of Karel’s ex, and they’ve been trying to put a hit out on the minister using deeply personal information, rather than having any legitimate point to make about systemic vulnerabilities in the immigration system or an actual display of lack of judgement. This is a young man, from what we can tell, who boneheadedly went home under a false name for one night despite actually being in danger because he was desperately homesick, and the idea that this trip actually proves he was somehow lying about the corruption involved in his case seems much more in doubt now that the other side of the story is coming out.
The Nats think the superficial politics of this will work for them- it’s certainly fired up their base and people who have no understanding of or compassion for immigrants, and those who don’t get that part of being a country that respects human rights means sometimes you have to grant residency to people who would be endangered in their home country, no matter how seemingly democratic it is. I can think of several reasons, for instance, we could grant residency on compassionate grounds to people from the USA. (honestly being black in the USA right now is probably reason in and of itself, for instance, with the ridiculous lengths people have to go to not to be shot by police there) This was very clearly a very last chance for someone we’ve already detained in New Zealand, anyway, and who had functionally already been a resident here, admittedly under fraudulent circumstances.
It’s not ideal that he smuggled drugs. It’s not ideal that he stole other people’s identities. And it’s not ideal that he has demonstrated repeatedly poor judgement. But you don’t deport someone to a country where they legitimately may be in danger just because they’re not an ideal candidate, especially not when you’re trying to be a kinder government. You make the hard call to be a better person. To say that everyone deserves safety- even those who have preyed on addicts or committed crimes. Because believing in human rights means you believe in them for everyone who’s willing to try and be part of society, even those of us who fail from time to time, and fall short. It means you believe in due process and minimum rights for criminals, and not extraditing them to places that can’t guarantee a fair trial. It means not extraditing people who might face the death penalty. It means all of those things.
I don’t like Lees-Galloways’ values on immigration. I think he’s too conservative and too close to NZ First’s position, one which I find utterly self-defeating in the long run and built on naive populism. But now the information on this case is finally starting to come out, it looks like the Minister has made the right call here, and the key to being right as much as possible is to immediately and aggressively admit when you’re wrong. I briefly thought the Minister had made the wrong call, perhaps because he skimmed the file and information hadn’t been provided to him by his staff, perhaps not. But it sounds like he was completely justified in granting this application for residency even though immigration officers were apparently pushing for deportation, and I hope he upholds his initial decision, and even though I don’t think he’s the right one to do it, I still wish him all the best in reforming an immigration department that has begun to view itself more like a temping agency than an actual immigration service, (we shouldn’t be treating immigrants like they are potential employees and looking just at qualifications all the time, it is potentially racist and discriminatory policy, but we should acknowledge the limits our available infrastructure imposes on our ability to take new migrants to cities like Auckland) and then I hope he embarasses the Nats in the house next time it sits by thoroughly panning them for pretending they were getting this from publicly available information that the Minister “should have known,” when in reality they had an obvious inside source.
I have many criticisms of this government, but this is no longer one of them. I’m comfortable that they made a good (and brave!) call here, and I sincerely hope they stick to it.