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Asia Minute: Australian Immigration Officials Cancel Controversial Operation

Takver / Flickr
Takver / Flickr

Immigration has emerged as an issue in the U.S. presidential campaign.  It’s also a hot topic in Australia.  But one approach to checking immigration status sparked a major protest Friday in that country’s second biggest city.  HPR’s Bill Dorman has more in today’s Asia Minute. 

It sounded something like the “stop and frisk” policy used by police in New York City.  The plan was for Australian immigration officials in Melbourne to patrol the city’s central business district over the weekend…and check the validity of people’s visas.  The press release announcing “Operation Fortitude” referred to officers “speaking with any individual we cross paths with” saying “You need to be aware of the conditions of your visa—if you commit visa fraud you should know it’s only a matter of time before you’re caught.”

The announcement provoked a storm of criticism that started on social media, and then spilled out to the streets of Melbourne during Friday’s rush hour.  Protestors blocked traffic and city trams and carried signs urging people to “smash fascism” and calling the policy a “racist disgrace.”  Government officials quickly shifted gears…cancelling the operation, and saying the Australian Border Force “does not target on the basis of race, religion or ethnicity.”

The commissioner of the force said the news release was “clumsily worded” and had been “misconstrued.”  Under Australia’s Migration Act, officers can ask to see proof of citizenship or a valid visa if they “know or reasonably suspect” a person is not an Australian citizen.

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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