Germany, New Zealand approaches to citizenship revocation for strip IS fighters – Statelessness

Both countries provide an exception for those who would be left stateless and appear to be applying that consistently unlike recent cases in the UK (Begum) and Australia (Prakash).

Starting with Germany:

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives and their Social Democrat (SPD) coalition partners have agreed a plan to strip some Germans who fight for the Islamic State militant group of their citizenship, a German newspaper reported on Sunday.

More than 1,000 Germans have left their country for war zones in the Middle East since 2013 and the government has been debating how to deal with them as U.S.-backed forces are poised to take the last patch of territory from Islamic State in Syria.

About a third have returned to Germany, another third are believed to have died, and the rest are believed to be still in Iraq and Syria, including some detained by Iraqi forces and U.S.-backed fighters in Syria. The Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, citing unnamed government sources, said three criteria must be met to allow the government to denaturalise Germans who take up arms for the Islamist group.

Such individuals must have a second citizenship, be adults and they would be stripped of their citizenship should they fight for Islamic State after the new rules go into effect.

The compromise ends a dispute over the issue between conservative Interior Minister Horst Seehofer and SPD Justice Minister Katarina Barley.

Spokesmen for both ministers were not available to comment on the report.

U.S. President Donald Trump last month urged Britain, France and Germany to take back more than 800 captured Islamic State fighters and put them on trial.

Germany said it would take back fighters only if the suspects have consular access.

Last month Britain revoked the citizenship of a teenager who had left London when she was aged 15 to join Islamic State in Syria.

The case of Shamima Begum highlighted the security, legal and ethical dilemmas facing European governments dealing with citizens who had sworn allegiance to a group determined to destroy the West.

Source: Germany to strip IS fighters of citizenship under certain criteria – report

New Zealand:

A New Zealand man detained in Syria after joining the Islamic State militant group will not be stripped of citizenship but could face criminal charges if he returns, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday.

New Zealand is the latest of a number of countries, from Australia and Britain to the United States, forced to grapple with legal and security challenges in dealing with former members of a hardline group that had sworn to destroy the West.

Mark Taylor, who traveled to Syria in 2014, told Australian broadcaster ABC from a prison in the Kurdish-run north that he expected to face time in prison if he returned to New Zealand.

Taylor’s joining the group was illegal and could have legal ramifications, Ardern said, but added that her government would provide him with a travel document to return, if possible.

“We have long had plans in place in the event that a New Zealand citizen supporting ISIS in Syria were to return,” Ardern told reporters, using an alternative name for the group.

“Mr Taylor only holds New Zealand citizenship and the government has an obligation not to make people stateless.”

Ardern said officials had identified that a small number of New Zealanders had joined IS, but declined to give an exact number.

New Zealand law allows revocation of citizenship only in limited situations, Ardern said, adding that the government could not render stateless anyone who did not have dual citizenship.Officials had told Taylor he would need to travel to a country where New Zealand has a diplomatic presence, such as Turkey, to receive an emergency travel document to return, said Ardern, adding that would be difficult as he is in detention.

In an interview aired on Monday, Taylor told the ABC that he had worked as a guard for the group for five years and had been detained in its prisons a number of times, such as after he accidentally leaked location details in a tweet in 2015.

He also appeared in an IS promotional video that year, calling for attacks on ANZAC Day celebrations in Australia and New Zealand.

Taylor told ABC he had witnessed executions while with the group and was sorry.

“I don’t know if I can go back to New Zealand, but at the end of the day it’s really something I have to live with for the rest of my life,” he said.

In February, Britain said it was revoking the citizenship of 19-year-old Shamima Begum, who had left London with two school friends to join up when she was 15, but now sought to return with her newborn son.

Source: New Zealand Islamic State recruit will not be stripped of citizenship


Punishment or Banishment?

A rather curious article that lumps some of the Canadian worries regarding returning ISIS fighters (including wives)  with citizenship revocation.

The Liberal government reversed the Conservative government’s change to the Citizenship Act that allowed for revocation in cases of terror or treason

The statelessness provisions in most other countries require having a second nationality in order for citizenship to be revoked which makes the process more difficult to implement (as UK is finding out with respect to Begum not having Bangladeshi citizenship  and Australia with Prakash not having Fijian citizenship).

In the Canadian case, the issue is whether or not Canada should provide normal consular services (e.g., as we do to Canadians on death row in the USA) or make efforts to facilitate their return to Canada.

The former may be difficult given where they are being held and the latter, as many have noted, raises the possibility that there may not be enough evidence to prosecute successfully in Canada.

And while all have justified sympathy for their children, no sympathy for the mothers who made a conscious decision to support ISIS and its horrors and thus have to live with the consequences.

While the mothers have the right to return to Canada, no need for special government efforts to facilitate their return:

So-called jihadi brides are in the news, accused of supporting terrorism by having travelled to ISIS territory to marry ISIS fighters in support of the caliphate. Three Western states are implicated: the UK, the US, and Canada.

UK citizen Shemima Begum left the UK four years ago, when she was 15 years old, and surfaced last month at a Syrian refugee camp, heavily pregnant. US citizen Hoda Muthana, then a college student, left the US four years ago, using her tuition money to buy a ticket to Turkey, from which she was smuggled into ISIS territory. She is now detained in refugee camp in northeastern Syria. Kimberly Gwen Polman, born in Hamilton, Ontario, is a dual Canadian–US national who converted to Islam. She became persuaded by a Syrian fighter online that her incipient nursing skills would be of great value to the caliphate. She left the US in 2015 to join the caliphate, only to attempt to escape nearly a year later. But then she was jailed (and raped) and forced to sign a document acknowledging that if she were to attempt escape again, her punishment would be death. All three women have publicly announced their desire to return home this week.

The UK government reacted swiftly, announcing its intention to remove the citizenship of Begum, thereby denying her the right to return home. Recent official statements suggest UK authorities believe she is entitled to Bangladeshi citizenship, so revoking her British citizenship will not result in statelessness. US President Donald Trump announced over the weekend that all states should be ready to repatriate (i.e., bring home) and punish their “own” foreign fighters, but then tweeted that he had directed Mike Pompeo “not to allow Hoda Muthana back into the Country!” Canadian officials have been relatively quiet on their intentions. A spokesperson for Public Safety Canada statedonly that “The government is aware of some Canadian citizens currently detained in Syria. There is no legal obligation to facilitate their return.”

These cases are not identical. Begum was a child when she left the UK and is now a mother to a newborn baby boy. Muthana’s choices were exacerbated by her use of social media to celebrate and encourage violence. Polman is known to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. What they share is the right to return home to face trial and punishment in their countries of citizenship.

All states have justice systems in place so that suspected wrongdoers can be tried and punished. Democratic justice systems are those that respect due process rights: the rights to a fair trial, including adequate legal representation, which permits the relevant evidence to be adjudicated by trained judges and, where relevant, juries of their peers.

It is conventional to say that citizens must be presumed innocent until proven guilty, and this convention holds even where there appears to be incontrovertible evidence of guilt. Its purpose is to allow the possibility that what looks like a slam-dunk case is murkier upon examination, to ensure that in collecting evidence all of the rights of the accused were respected, and furthermore to allow for the presentation of extenuating circumstances that can complicate what seems like a simple guilty verdict.

There is more to criminal justice in democracies, moreover, than how the accused are treated during the trial phase. The punishments must also meet democratic criteria. It is a principle of punishment in democratic states that any citizen, no matter how criminal, must be treated as someone who can re-enter the community of equals from which she was temporarily excluded by punishment. This principle is why the death penalty must be rejected. It is also why denationalization must also be rejected.

Denationalization of terrorists, the process of revoking citizenship from those suspected of terrorist activities, is gaining in popularity in democratic states, who are rushing to prove they are tough on terror. Denationalizing terrorists is good politics.

Nevertheless, denationalization is unjust and undemocratic. It permits states to abandon citizens who are entitled to their protection in dangerous locations, in principle free to commit additional crimes. The Trudeau government recognized as much when it overturned the parts of the Strengthening Citizenship Act that permitted the revocation of citizenship. Weaselly words stating that Canada is not under the obligation to facilitate the return of suspected wrongdoers reveal an unwillingness to stand by the commitment implied by Mr. Trudeau’s now famous statement, “A Canadian is a Canadian.” Canadians, even criminal Canadians, are entitled to have their rights protected by Canada.

By revoking citizenship, states punish citizens suspected of criminal activities by banishing them, in advance of conviction. They treat them as unworthy of having their rights protected, as beyond the pale, rather than as individuals who in time can learn the error of their ways. These women must be returned to their states of citizenship so that we, their fellow-citizens, can judge their actions and, if appropriate, witness their just punishments.

Source: Punish homegrown terrorists. Don’t revoke their citizenship

Sajid Javid: difficult to strip Shamima Begum of UK citizenship

An important nuance to the UK’s citizenship revocation policy – must already have another citizenship, not just (theoretically) be able to obtain one:

Sajid Javid has indicated it could prove hugely difficult to strip Shamima Begum of her UK citizenship, telling MPs such action would not normally be taken against someone without another nationality and who was born in Britain.

Answering questions before the home affairs committee, Javid refused to discuss specifically the case of the 19-year-old, who travelled from east London to Syria to join Islamic State in 2015, but wants to return with her newborn baby.

But speaking more generally about the policy of stripping citizenship from UK nationals who are deemed a danger to the country, the home secretary said this action had never been taken if it would have left someone stateless.

“If an individual only has one citizenship, then generally the power cannot be used because by definition if you took away their British citizenship they would be stateless,” Javid said in answer to a question from the former Labour MP John Woodcock.

“I certainly haven’t done that and I am not aware that one of my predecessors has done that in a case where they know an individual only has one citizenship, as that would be breaking international law as we understand it.”

Last week, it emerged that the Home Office had written to Begum’s family to inform them an order was being made under the 1981 British Nationality Act, which allows the home secretary to remove someone’s citizenship if they are “satisfied that deprivation is conducive to the public good”.

A 2014 amendment to the Nationality Act allows UK citizenship to be removed if there are “reasonable grounds for believing” the person would be able to become a citizen of another country.

Asked about this by Woodcock, Javid stressed this could happen only if the person involved was a naturalised UK citizen originally from another country.

Javid said: “I have not deployed the power on the basis that someone could have citizenship to a second country. I’ve always applied it on the strict advice of legal advisers in the Home Office and more broadly in the government that when the power is deployed, with respect to that individual, they already have more than one citizenship.”

This measure had never seemingly been used, he added: “I have not used that power, and to the best of my knowledge none of my predecessors have used the power that was given in 2014.”

Begum’s family has stressed she does not have Bangladeshi citizenship, while Bangladesh has also said she does not, and will not be allowed into the country.

Assuming she does not have Bangladeshi nationality, it appears hard to see how Javid could enforce the order set out in the letter, which has prompted criticism that he was seeking to exploit populist feeling without proper attention to the law.

Javid was asked by the Labour MP Kate Green whether it was “morally right to export the problem” to Bangladesh, rather than deal with Begum through UK courts.

The home secretary argued that his priority had to be to protect the UK. Asked again if he thought this was morally suspect, he added: “I’m afraid I just don’t see it like that.”

He also confirmed that Begum’s baby would be a UK national, saying that children of British-born mothers had that right. However, he added, it would be “incredibly difficult” to assist the infant, as Begum was in a refugee camp in northern Syria.

Begum left the UK along with two schoolfriends. Her case was thrust back into the spotlight last week when she declared her wish to return for the sake of her child in an interview with the Times.

Source: Sajid Javid: difficult to strip Shamima Begum of UK citizenship

British Columbians Troubled by Birth Tourism, Call for Change

Although a less than reliable online survey, overall concerns among all British Columbia residents, whatever their origins, sounds about right:

Many residents of British Columbia are concerned about the practice of “birth tourism”, a new Research Co. poll has found.

In the online survey of a representative provincial sample, 82% of British Columbians believe “birth tourism” can be unfairly used to gain access to Canada’s education, health care and social programs.

“Birth tourism” is the practice of traveling to a specific country for the purpose of giving birth there and securing citizenship for the child in a country that has birthright citizenship.

Canada allows expectant mothers who are foreign nationals to gain automatic citizenship for their children born in Canada.

There have been reports of unregulated “for profit” businesses that have facilitated the practice of “birth tourism”  in Canada. Across British Columbia, 49% of residents say they have followed this issue “very closely” or “moderately closely” over the past year.

More than three-in-five British Columbians say “birth tourism” can degrade the value of Canadian citizenship (66%) and can displace Canadians from hospitals (63%).

An e-petitionendorsed by Joe Peschisolido, the Member of Parliament for the Steveston—Richmond East constituency, is calling on the federal government to commit public resources to determine the full extent of “birth tourism” across Canada. A considerable majority of British Columbians (85%) agree with this proposal.

Seven-in-ten British Columbians (73%) believe Canada should “definitely” or “probably” consider establishing new guidelines for birthright citizenship, while 18% would keep the existing standards.

“There is no substantial variation on these questions when the ethnicity of respondents is considered,” says Mario Canseco, President of Research Co. “We find that 71% of British Columbians of East Asian descent and 75% of those of European descent would like to see some modifications to the current rules for birthright citizenship.”

Source: view the release on our website

‘Not Canadian enough:’ Edmonton woman’s girls denied citizenship under 2009 law

As expected, the introduction of a first generation limit results in children of Canadian citizens born outside of Canada cannot pass on their citizenship to their children.

The previous retention provisions were difficult to administer consistently and resulted in situations where citizens with minimal to no connection to Canada could pass on their citizenship to their children as the 2006 Lebanese Canadian evacuation demonstrated.

And the solution of applying for permanent residency has the advantage of starting the clock again for the child and his or her children.

IRCC should, of course, process such Permanent Residents applications quickly:

A woman in Alberta says she feels like she’s not Canadian enough after her daughters were denied citizenship.

Victoria Maruyama was born in Hong Kong and, because her father was Canadian, has been a Canadian citizen since she was a baby. When she was a year old, the family moved to Edmonton where she grew up.

At the age of 22, she went to Japan to teach English.

“I met my kids’ dad,” Maruyama said in an interview with The Canadian Press. “The plan was just to teach English throughout Asia, move around from one country to the next, but he kind of scotched my plans.”

She was seven months pregnant with their first daughter, Akari, in 2009 when Conservative government amendments to the citizenship laws took away her right to pass on citizenship to her children unless they were born in Canada.

By that time, it was too late in her pregnancy to fly back to Canada. Her second daughter, Arisa, was also born in Japan.

The girls are now seven and nine years old and, despite moving back to Edmonton almost two years ago, Maruyama is still fighting for them to become Canadian.

“We had to struggle to get my kids in school. We had to fight to get them health care. They had no health care for months. Then they had it for six months and then they were stripped of it again,” she said.

“It should be my right to come home with my children and for them to be educated and … have health care and vaccinations and all those basic things.”

A January letter from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada notes Akari and Arisa were rejected because “they are not stateless, will not face special and unusual hardship if you are not granted Canadian citizenship and you have not provided services of exceptional value to Canada.”

Officials with the federal department said in a statement that decision-makers determined that criteria for citizenship have not been met.

“As part of the determination, the best interests of the child were considered,” they said in an email. “However, sufficient evidence was not provided to demonstrate that the children have been denied access to basic services in Canada.”

Maruyama’s lawyer, Charles Gibson, has filed an application for a judicial review in Federal Court. He argues that the rejection is unlawful and that the Citizenship Act is discriminatory.

“It creates two classes of Canadian citizens,” he says in court documents. “One class that can perpetually pass on or inherit Canadian citizenship and one that cannot. The Citizenship Act precludes the applicant’s mother from passing … on her Canadian citizenship to the applicant.

“As a result, the applicant has suffered a great deal of hardship.”

Don Chapman, an advocate for “lost” Canadians, said the law also goes against the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Canada signed in 1990.

“You have the right to live in the country with your parents. You have the right to an education. You have a right to medical. You have a right to seek legal guidance if the country won’t do this,” he said.

Chapman said there are many expat Canadians who could find themselves in the same situation.

“It’s a problem that’s going to explode.”

When Justin Trudeau was citizenship and immigration critic, he promised in a March 2011 news release to change the “anachronistic” law.

But Morgan said the Liberal government still hasn’t addressed the loophole for second-generation Canadians born abroad.

“It means there’s only one group of Canadian citizens that have a litmus test to get their kids in,” he said. “If the kids had been abandoned, the kids would be Canadian. If you or me or any other Canadian adopts the children, they have a right of citizenship. If Vicki had been an immigrant Canadian and then naturalized, her kids would be Canadian.”

He said the Maruyama family is caught in the middle of the 2009 legal changes.

“There’s Trudeau going a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian, and no, no and no,” said Chapman, who noted the Conservative Opposition has also been silent on the issue. “They all talk about refugees and immigrants, but no one is talking about this.”

Maruyama said if they aren’t able to get citizenship, her girls could apply for permanent residence status as immigrants — a possibility confirmed by the federal Immigration Department.

“They would have a higher level of citizenship than me because they (could) … pass on citizenship to their children,” she said. “But me living here 20-some years is not enough.

“Not Canadian enough.”

USA: Wait Times for Citizenship Have Doubled in the Last Two Years

Another illustration of the Trump administration’s anti-immigration policies:

After working through the Las Vegas summer lugging boxes and heavy furniture to raise money to apply for United States citizenship, Jose Silva plunked down the $725 fee in the fall of 2017, just days after he turned 18. “I hoped to vote in the midterm elections,” he said.

But it took until last week, more than a year and a half after he applied, for the college student to be scheduled for a citizenship interview, which he will have on March 20. If approved, Mr. Silva will take the oath later this year.

The time that aspiring Americans must wait to be naturalized is now almost twice as long, 10 months, as it was two years ago. In Las Vegas, where the office has a particularly large backlog, applicants could wait 31 months.

The delays come as the Trump administration tightens scrutiny of applications, diverts staff from reviewing them and introduces proposals likely to make it more difficult, and cumbersome, for green-card holders to qualify and complete the process.

Nearly nine million immigrants are eligible for citizenship. The steep application fee and the civics and English tests have historically deterred many from naturalizing. Instead, they renewed their legal residence every decade.

But the administration’s move to tighten restrictions on immigration have awakened many longtime permanent residents to the fact that a green card does not shield them from deportation. It has also compelled many to seek citizenship in order to cast a ballot, with hundreds of thousands of immigrants poised to become potential voters ahead of the 2020 election.

After supporting legislation that would cut overall immigration, President Trump recently championed the economic benefits of attracting foreign talent. In his State of the Union address, the president said he wanted “people to come into our country in the largest numbers ever, but they have to come in legally.”

Yet the lengthening backlog in applications is making it more difficult for immigrants to become civically engaged and to solidify ties to their adopted country, critics of the administration’s policies say. “Far from the public eye, the Trump administration is strangling the naturalization process,” said Steven Choi, a chair of the National Partnership for New Americans, a coalition of advocacy groups that is pushing to offer naturalization workshops and legal services to would-be citizens.

Coalition members filed a federal lawsuit in Los Angeles in September against the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency that reviews the applications, challenging the processing delays.

The federal agency has blamed the delays on a sharp rise in applications.

“U.S.C.I.S. continues to adjudicate the pending naturalization caseload, which skyrocketed under the Obama administration, more than doubling from 291,800 in September 2010 to nearly 700,000 by the beginning of 2017. Now, despite a record and unprecedented application surge workload, U.S.C.I.S. is completing more citizenship applications, more efficiently and effectively — outperforming itself,” Michael Bars, an agency spokesman, said in response to emailed questions.

There have been bigger application spikes in the past, such as in 2007, when the caseload swelled to 1.4 million and the agency was able to work through the backlog by the following year. That has not happened with the current pileup.

A total of 750,793 applications were pending at the end of June, the latest period available. But the rate at which they are being processed is at the lowest in a decade, according to an analysis released this month by Boundless Immigration, a technology company in Seattle that helps immigrants obtain green cards and citizenship. The agency was able to work through only about half its applications in 2017, compared to about 60 percent in 2016. (Data for 2018 is not available.)

“Applications for citizenship have surged many times in the past and U.S.C.I.S. was able to bring enough resources to bear to tame them. Wait times have doubled and the agency is barely processing half of their backlog,” said Doug Rand, a founder of Boundless Immigration.

A Feb. 12 letter to the director of Citizenship and Immigration Services that was signed by 86 members of Congress raised concerns about the “alarming growth in processing delays” for naturalization and other services like green cards and visas.

It noted that the agency’s proposed budget for the 2019 fiscal year included a request that more than $200 million of its fee revenue be transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency that rounds up people for deportation.

“This appears to represent part of U.S.C.I.S.’s larger shift toward prioritizing immigration enforcement over the service-oriented adjudications at the core of the agency’s mandate,” said the letter, which sought details about efforts to reduce and eliminate backlogs.

Processing times vary across the country, depending on caseloads and staffing at regional offices. Applicants in Houston could wait almost two years; in Atlanta, the wait could be even longer. In contrast, those seeking citizenship in Louisville, Ky., have been completing the process in up to 10 months. In Buffalo, the wait is just over a year.

Citizenship applications are receiving additional scrutiny — and that is likely to intensify. The Trump administration says that it is placing a premium on integrity. But immigration lawyers and other experts report that officers are digging up information going back years to raise questions that are delaying, and jeopardizing, citizenship for many applicants.

“The Trump administration has infused the entire legal immigration system with skepticism, but naturalization should be different: These people are already here legally; they want to be citizens to better assimilate,” said Mr. Rand, who served in the Obama administration.

The government has also been taking a harder look at some immigrants who have already become citizens. Last year, the agency launched a denaturalization task force with the aim of stripping citizenship from people found to have committed fraud to obtain it.

Some applicants have shown up for their interview only to learn they could be deported.

“This past year, for the first time we have started to see people who apply for naturalization not only have it denied but also be placed in removal proceedings to take away their permanent residence,” said Ted Farrell, an immigration lawyer in Louisville.

Ahmed Bafagih, 31, a permanent resident since 2010, was denied citizenship after he told an officer during his interview last month in Houston that he was born in Kenya, not Yemen, as appeared in his file. He is appealing the decision.

“Acting in good faith, I tried to correct the error that would have gone unnoticed,” said the lab technician, who moved to Sana from Mombasa, his birthplace, when he was about 30 days old.

The denial, reviewed by The New York Times, stated that, “Your record reflects that there was fraud in procurement of your Legal Permanent Resident status,” referring to the erroneous birth certificate.

Mr. Bafagih’s Yemen-born parents and three sisters are American citizens.

His father, Jamal Bafagih, who won awards during 25 years of service with American government missions in the Middle East, including with the Pentagon and the Commerce Department, said: “I raised my kids to love this country. Suddenly when my son reports an error, it bounces back to hurt him; that leaves a very bad taste.”

Slated for implementation are a series of regulatory changes that are likely to make the process even more onerous.

One proposal would require many citizenship applicants to produce a decade of international travel history, rather than the current five; more documentation, like children’s birth certificates, which many refugees lack; as well as more information to ascertain “good moral character.”

The agency has also proposed narrowing the eligibility criteria for a waiver of the full $725 filing fee, which would reduce the number of low-income immigrants who could afford to naturalize.

Meanwhile, many agency officers who conduct citizenship interviews have been reassigned to the southern border to interview asylum seekers, whose cases the administration wishes to expedite, according to an agency official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to speak to the media.

For many of those waiting their turn, more is at stake than the simple pride of citizenship. Holding an American passport opens access to certain jobs, such as in law-enforcement agencies, and scholarships that are not available to noncitizens. Mr. Silva the applicant in Las Vegas, is studying Arabic, a language in high demand by government agencies, which often only hire citizens.

He’s studying at a community college, but hopes to transfer to a four-year university next year — and that’s another issue.

“My passion is languages,” said Mr. Silva, “and for scholarships I have found, you have to be a U.S. citizen.”

PEI’s immigration record in spotlight after family caught in crackdown left picking up pieces of their lives

The day started out as an ordinary Wednesday. Ping Zhong was doing the breakfast dishes. Her daughter, about to leave for work, opened the front door. What awaited on the other side shocked Ms. Zhong.

The step was crowded with armed, dark-clothed officers. They wanted in.

Panic began pounding so hard in her ears that Ms. Zhong, then 58, could hardly hear the explanation for why she was being arrested. “I do have good English, but I really did not understand their words – ‘abetting’ and ‘inducing,’ ” said Ms. Zhong, who has lived in Charlottetown for nearly 30 years. “A lady showed me the paper. I was so shocked and confused and terrified.”

The paper was a judge-issued warrant giving federal officers permission to arrest Ms. Zhong and search her home, vehicles and the Sherwood Inn and Motel, which her family runs for secondary income. Officers led Ms. Zhong to an unmarked car and she buried her hands in her winter coat, hoping to hide her handcuffs from the neighbours.

Ms. Zhong said her 2016 arrest was a bewildering experience.

On that day in February, 2016, federal border-security investigators believed they had uncovered the biggest immigration fraud scheme in Prince Edward Island’s history. More than 500 immigrants who applied for permanent residency had used street addresses traced to Ms. Zhong and her hotel on their government immigration forms. The reason for doing so was to create “the illusion they are living in Canada” while actually living elsewhere, according to allegations outlined in the warrant.

Ms. Zhong and her brother, Yi, appeared to be “integral players” who made “a business” out of helping pull off the hoax, investigator Lana Hicks wrote.

Criminal charges were filed against the Zhongs; when their case became public last spring, its revelations exposed the province’s vulnerability to immigration abuse. Specifically spotlighted was an arm of PEI’s immigration program that allowed qualifying immigrants permanent-residency cards before they actually moved to the island. It also raised questions about whether locals – including the Zhongs – were cashing in by helping permanent-resident immigrants skirt provincial rules that required them to live in PEI, rather than elsewhere in Canada.

The Zhongs pleaded not guilty. PEI nonetheless shuttered the suspect arm of its immigration program. It was the third time in a decade the province closed an immigration stream subject to allegations of abuse.

Then, four days into the Zhongs’ December trial, a federal prosecutor unexpectedly asked for a stay of proceedings. The Crown has the rest of this year to decide whether to pursue its charges. However, PEI Premier Wade MacLauchlan said the case, which has raised concerns about the treatment of immigrants on the island, “probably should have been thrown out.”

“It was like the Crown didn’t want to admit that they can’t win,” said Lee Cohen, Ms. Zhong’s Halifax-based human-rights lawyer. Meanwhile, he said, “Ping and Yi are left holding the tatters of their lives.

While PEI recently boasted the country’s top immigration rate, the province has historically struggled to retain immigrants who are attracted to the opportunities and diversity in more populated regions.

In 2012, to combat the drain, the province created a new immigration stream for higher-net-worth immigrants that would grow to be its most popular means of entry. Called the “100% Ownership Stream,” the program granted its nomination for residency to immigrants who paid a $200,000 escrow deposit. The nomination is technically made to the federal government, which has final say on immigration approvals.

PEI’s program was then unique in Canada. Other provinces commonly require immigrants to work via a permit for one year before granting a permanent-residency nomination. PEI’s program allowed immigrant investors to get that status early and without proving they had moved to the island.

The caveat was this: Immigrants in the Ownership stream could only get back their $200,000 deposit if, after two years, they could prove they resided on the island and had opened a business.

Results were mediocre.

Between 2014, when the province began issuing refunds, and 2018, when the program was shuttered, more deposits were forfeited by newcomers than refunded, according to data provided to The Globe and Mail by Island Investment Development Inc. (IIDC), the Crown corporation that manages immigration on PEI.

“Some of those defaults were for people that were not residing here, unfortunately,” said Jamie Aiken, executive director of the IIDC.

The upside, though, was a $40-million boon to provincial coffers.

But Mr. Aiken said that the revenue gains pale in comparison with the positive effect that having more immigrants stay long term would achieve. The reason the province shuttered the program last fall, he said, was that a program review deemed its high default rate ineffective. The new program that replaced it only awards permanent-residency status after immigrants have spent a year on PEI.

The province made this change not long after the Zhongs were charged with defrauding the system. However, Mr. Aiken said the Zhong case did not affect the province’s decision, dismissing the timing as coincidence.

Nevertheless, the timing raised suspicions on the island. Perceptions of PEI’s immigration program have been darkened by long-standing accusations of improprieties that have stretched over more than a decade.

“The waters are really muddy on PEI because people can’t get past what happened 10 years ago,” said Andrew Sprague, a senior communications official with PEI’s Department of Economic Development and Tourism.

Then, PEI was offering provincial nominations for residency to a different stream of entrepreneurial immigrants who agreed to invest roughly $200,000 in an island business – one they did not own or have any part in choosing – and live in the province for one year.

The program was criticized as a cash grab that lacked transparency (the province never disclosed which Islanders’ businesses received immigrant money). Many immigrants who came through the program left the island when their one-year pledge expired.

In response to the criticism, Ottawa announced plans to tighten the program’s rules. PEI approved a plan to rush through a final set of 2,000 applications, flooding businesses with $400-million in foreign cash. Provincial legislators refused to release a list of which Island businesses benefited. But in a 2009 report, the province’s auditor-general expressed concerns many of the companies that did have ties to elected provincial officials, deputy ministers or their families.

Whistle-blowers and the federal government called for an inquiry, leading both the RCMP and the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) to launch investigations. But in 2012, both agencies announced there was insufficient evidence to lay charges.

The province shuttered the suspect program that year. In its place, they brought in the escrow deposit system.

Having what law enforcement calls an “address of convenience” is “an essential element” of any provincial nominee’s scheme to commit residency fraud.

Lana Hicks, a 20-year investigator with the CBSA, explains this in an application filed last year in PEI for a search warrant to raid one such suspect address. She also sets out how she uncovered what appeared to be the biggest cases of immigration and residency fraud in PEI’s history.

She stumbled onto it by accident. In 2015, in the midst of an investigation into a suspected watch smuggling, Ms. Hicks dialled a phone number linked to a PEI address that a pair of Chinese immigrants had given border-security agents.

Ms. Hicks assumed she was dialling the residential address of her person of interest.

“A male answered the phone: ‘Sherwood Inn,’ ” Ms. Hicks reported.

Her curiosity piqued, Ms. Hicks went on to discover that 566 immigrants who had applied for permanent residency on PEI had given border-security agents the same two street addresses as their places of residence. Ms. Hicks traced one of the addresses to the Sherwood Inn and Motel and the other to Ms. Zhong – one of the motel’s co-owners.

The sheer volume of people who used the addresses was “extremely high and suspect,” Ms. Hicks wrote in her application for a warrant to search for more clues. “Based on my experience, the numbers go well beyond assisting a couple of friends,” she wrote, adding that her findings appeared to indicate “a very well-established, organized fraud.”

An advertisement for the hotel on a Chinese-language website Ms. Hicks found offered “pick-ups, bank procedures, medical care” as well as help with schooling, housing contacts and more. In her warrant, Ms. Hicks raised this as a red flag, because it “advertises services outside the scope of what is ordinarily seen for a motel.”

To collect information for the warrant, Ms. Hicks had placed surveillance on the Sherwood, Ms. Zhong and her brother, also a part-owner.

Covert investigators followed Mr. Zhong as he picked immigrants up at the airport, chauffeured them around Charlottetown, delivered them to the provincial immigration offices, to Service Canada for driver’s licensing, to banks and schools. Mr. Zhong routinely stopped his van to allow guests to get out and take pictures, including in front of Holland College, where immigrants take English language courses, and other landmarks.

Mr. Zhong sometimes took guests to other hotels instead of the one he owned, an act that raised surprise and suspicion in Ms. Hicks, who questioned Mr. Zhong’s motivation given “it doesn’t even appear that the owners are benefiting from permanent residents staying at their motel.”

When he took one family that was not staying at the Sherwood Inn for a short visit to his hotel on their way back to the airport, it was another red flag to investigators. They believed, Ms. Hicks wrote, that those short stops – which involved some immigrants who had already gained permanent-residency status – were for the purpose of allowing the permanent residents to arrange to have their mail forwarded to the hotel – an “address of convenience” – while they actually went to live elsewhere.

Bolstering this hunch was the fact that investigators’ garbage grabs had found discarded envelopes addressed to a range of individuals.

“I believe that the Sherwood Motel and the owners have made a business of providing this service,” Ms. Hicks wrote, describing her theory. That included the belief that Mr. Zhong’s downtown tours with immigrants – and the photo stops he repeated with so many families – were to help those who had permanent residency, but planned to live elsewhere, collect “some photos in case they were questioned as proof of residency.”

With her search warrant granted, Ms. Hicks had part of her team arrest Ms. Zhong at her home on the morning of February 17, 2016, while others went in search of her brother, who lived at the Sherwood Motel. After breaking down one of the hotel doors, the officers would learn that Mr. Zhong was in China for an annual visit.

What they did find in the motel’s office, though, were a few documents they later submitted as evidence to bolster their theory that immigrants were coming to the hotel for more than rooms to stay in.

Written in Chinese, applications for “Basic Settlement Services” were found printed with names of some former guests and branded by a Vancouver-based immigration consultancy called “Can-Achieve.” While the forms did not actually list the Sherwood Inn or the Zhongs, telephone numbers printed beside the heading “Prince Edward Island Hot Line for Meeting Plane” belonged to the Sherwood and to Ms. Zhong’s husband, Cheng Dong.

More than two years after the February raids, the siblings were charged with helping seven permanent residents and their families commit residency fraud between 2010 and 2013.

That number was far fewer than the 500 or so investigators suspected the Zhongs of helping in their initial search warrant. Still, the evidence underpinning the charges, filed as part of the trial proceedings last December, numbers in the thousands of pages.

Most of those documents are permanent-residency applications that belong to families the Zhongs are alleged to have assisted. They are partly redacted to protect the privacy of some of those applicants. However, they shed light on the wide spread of “immigration intermediaries,” agents and consultants that immigrants hire to help with various points of their journey to become permanent residents in Canada. Ms. Hicks noted in her warrant application that “there are many opportunities in the process where misrepresentation or fraud can occur.”

What the file does not contain, despite its heft, are any documents that show contracts or formal agreements between the Zhongs and the families they stand accused of helping. No documents show a deal between the Zhongs and the immigration consultancies listed in the files, nor do they show evidence that the Zhongs ever received money from anyone for anything other than the rental of their hotel rooms.

The siblings’ trial lasted just four days before Crown prosecutor Caroline Lirette asked the judge to stay proceedings. Ms. Lirette said in an e-mail that her office “does not provide reasons” for requesting a stay.

But to Mr. Cohen, the Zhongs’ lawyer, the explanation is simple. “The reason is there are no dots they can connect that would get a conviction,” he said. “They can’t prove it because there is no evidence. It does not exist. They simply relied on the optics.”

If she’d had the chance to testify in court, Ms. Zhong would have told the story of what it was like when she came to Canada.

There were very few Chinese people in Charlottetown when Ms. Zhong arrived as a temporary teacher in 1989. She loved the island, though, and three years later, her husband, a university professor, and their young daughter left the eastern Chinese city of Zhenjiang to join her. A dozen or so members of her extended family trickled out afterward.

Ms. Zhong worked then (and does now) as a teaching assistant with special-needs students; her friendship with another teacher led to a joint purchase of the Sherwood Inn and Motel. Ms. Zhong said she is proud that it made her the first Chinese immigrant to own a hotel on the island.

Through the hotel, Ms. Zhong said her family was determined to show newcomers the same sort of kindness that they once received. Some even asked the Zhongs to pick them up at the airport, but deliver them to competing hotels – nicer properties than the bare-bones Sherwood – and to translate for them, which the Zhongs did, usually for free.

Ms. Zhong said her family never refused a request and never charged anything extra for their services beyond the cost of their hotel rooms.

“We appreciated the help we got when we arrived on the island. We thought this was something we could do to make newcomers feel welcome … to make their lives easier,” she said.

When newcomers began to ask if they could use the hotel’s address to receive mail, including citizenship documents and permanent-residency cards, while they were in other parts of Canada or out of the country, Ms. Zhong agreed. Ms. Zhong even allowed the use of her personal home mailing address to some immigrants who felt concerned about having their mail sent to the hotel.

“You know, [I] didn’t think much of it,” Ms. Zhong told Ms. Hicks during their initial, 2016 interview. “We trust people so much.”

The opportunity to make a little bit of extra money from helping needy newcomers arose when a man Ms. Zhong described as Taiwanese showed up at the Sherwood some time in the late 2000s. Ms. Zhong cannot recall the man’s name, but said he told her he was affiliated with an immigration agency called Can-Achieve, based in Vancouver, which had a stream of clients moving from China to Charlottetown and who needed settlement help. (An e-mailed request for comment to Can-Achieve was not met with a response.)

“He said, ‘Maybe we can send you some people,’” Ms. Zhong said, recalling the man said he could pay her $100 to $150 a family. It was a handshake deal; nothing was written down.

“I didn’t see any problems,” Ms. Zhong said. “I was already doing this for people for free.”

The agreement with Can-Achieve turned out to be poor and short-lived.

Ms. Zhong, who manages the hotel’s account book, only recouped some of the money from her brother’s efforts ferrying around the newcomer clients that came via the company (she said she does not have a record of exactly how much). Her final call to Can-Achieve was some time in the late 2000s, a follow-up on hundreds of dollars’ worth of unpaid tabs.

“They refused to pay us. The woman on the phone said they changed ownership,” Ms. Zhong said, adding that she has no record of whom she spoke with or when the call took place.

This, too, she would have liked the chance to explain in court.

She also would have said that when newcomers’ mail was coming to her house and the hotel, she never considered that the people who asked her to forward their mail might be committing residency fraud.

“I was too naive,” she told The Globe. “I should not have let them use our address. There are always some bad apples that will take advantage, but we did not know.”

Ms. Zhong will have to wait out the year to see whether the Crown will make another attempt to test her in court. Business has suffered as word of the case spread to China; plans to expand the Sherwood are on hold. Memories of the raids come back to Ms. Zhong in nightmares, she said. Her brother, too, struggles with sleep.

Mr. Cohen, the lawyer, said the case is a reminder that appearances are not always what they seem.

“Looking suspicious is not the standard of proof,” he said. “But for the fact that their motel address was used – and there are easy explanations for that – there is no evidence whatsoever connecting Ping or Yi to any kind of collaboration.”

His clients were “mischaracterized,” he said, adding: “What they have done is absolutely legal and generous and noble.”

Led by Ms. Hicks, the CBSA conducted more raids last summer in Charlottetown on a pair of homes owned by a Chinese immigrant and business person. The warrant application contains similar allegations to those made against the Zhongs, including the suggestion that the individual provided a “homestay” and addresses of convenience for more than 400 new immigrants.

More than six months later, no charges have been filed (for this reason, The Globe has chosen not to name the individual, who declined to be interviewed), and it is not clear if they will be. In a statement, the CBSA told The Globe the agency does not discuss its investigations.

Source: PEI’s immigration record in spotlight after family caught in crackdown left picking up pieces of their lives

Gurski: Citizenship revocation is not the answer to terrorism

From my friend Phil Gurski, sensible comments on the limits of revocation in curbing radicalization and extremism:

In light of the announcement by the UK government that it is considering revoking the citizenship of clearly unrepentant jihadi Shamima Begum, claiming that she is “eligible for that of another country” (Bangladeshi apparently although she has never been there), I thought I would reproduce what I wrote about citizenship revocation in my second book Western Foreign Fighters: the threat to homeland and international security back in 2016. While I am not in favour of foreign terrorist fighter repatriation, nor am I keen on stripping one’s status, as the following paragraphs should make clear.

In the midst of the 2015 Canadian federal election campaign, the governing Conservative government announced that it was taking steps to revoke the citizenship of convicted terrorists in Canada, although it was unclear what implications this move would entail.  There were voices calling for similar steps to be taken against foreign fighters with IS.  After the Liberals won a majority, they quickly put a hold on this measure in Canadian courts.

Part of me feels that this is just displacing, and not solving the problem.  If we deport a terrorist to the country where s/he holds other citizenship (assuming that the other country agrees to take the individual – cases in Canada show that this can be convoluted), aren’t we just giving our problem to someone else?  What if that country practices torture or has no decent Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) programming?  What is to stop that individual from re-engaging?

Furthermore, and I do not think that this aspect has been discussed nearly enough, it seems that the individuals subject to possible citizenship revocation and deportation were actually radicalized in the West.  Getting rid of them does not address the environment and the players where the radicalization occurred.  In a sense, we own them.   So, how does offing our problem make things better?  Does it act as a deterrent?   Those whose citizenship was revoked could just as easily return on false documentation.  Legislation along these lines strikes me as vindictive and knee-jerk.

Another weakness in citizenship revocation is its limited application.  States cannot render an individual stateless, hence a person can have his or her citizenship removed only if s/he has another one to fall back on.  In the absence of dual citizenship governments cannot use this tool.  By doing so they in effect create two tiers of citizenship and apply laws discriminately against one section of society.  This strikes me as counter to the democratic systems we have built in the West.

Nevertheless, a number of countries have indicated that they will enact legislation to remove citizenship from terrorists.  Among those are:

  • In December 2015, Australia passed a law to remove citizenship from those under four criteria: engaging in terrorist acts, provide or receive training in preparation for a terrorist act, direct activities of a terrorist organisation, recruit or finance terrorists or terrorism; fighting in the service of a declared terrorist group;  convicted of a terrorism offence and sentenced to at least six years’ jail; or convicted of terrorism in the previous decade – retrospective measures allowing citizenship to be revoked for convicted terrorists in jail.

  • In October 2015 France announced plans to strip citizenship from five terrorists in its counter-terrorism struggle  This promise, repeated after the November 2015 attacks in Paris, was rescinded the following December when politicians decided it would be too divisive, only to be re-instated a day later  It would be applied to dual citizens convicted of terrorism offences.  The move led to accusations that France was pandering to the far right and was following in the footsteps of the WWII Vichy regime that stripped Jews of their French citizenship.  The planned measure remained controversial as of January 2016.  At the end of March 2016 the government finally announced it would not implement the measure.

  • Other countries considering such measures include Russia, Israel, Belgium and Norway.


Number of UAE expats prepared to spend a fortune for a second passport surges 30%

More on citizenship-by-investment and the incentives for expatriates in the Gulf who have no pathway to citizenship to pursue options:

There has been a huge increase in the number of wealthy expatriate residents in the UAE who are willing to spend hundreds of thousands to millions dirhams in exchange for a second passport — and the privilege to travel the world freely — despite allegations of fraud against some immigration firms.

In 2018, requests made in the UAE to obtain an alternative citizenship went up by 30 per cent compared to the previous year, according to Citizenship Invest, a Dubai-based company.

The bulk of these applications are from Asian and Middle Eastern nationals residing in the UAE, with Syrians topping the list and accounting for 14 per cent of total demand.

Many Pakistani nationals are also interested in acquiring residency rights from other countries, with their applications accounting for 12 per cent, followed by Indian residents at ten per cent and Egyptians at nine per cent.

Gulf News reported this month that some agencies that facilitate applications for Caribbean passports have been accused of forging documents and circumventing legal requirements to obtain a citizenship.

Second passports, particularly those that provide visa-free entry to over a hundred destinations, including those in the Schengen and European Union states, have gained popularity in recent years.

They don’t just enable holders to enjoy much more global mobility or travel freedom, but tax privileges and better security as well. They are particularly in demand among citizens in certain countries who face a lot of passport restrictions

Second passports are being offered by countries like Cyprus, Malta and those in the Caribbean in exchange for an investment in the local economy, including real estate.

Many of such programmes enable investors to legally obtain residency or citizenship rights in less than six months without having to move outside the UAE, but they come with a hefty cost, and in many cases, an applicant needs to set aside between Dh360,000 to more than Dh5 million.

According to Citizenship Invest, second passports remain an attractive option for many foreigners based in the UAE, especially since some states offering alternative citizenship have slashed their fees.

Veronica Cotdemiey, CEO of Citizenship Invest, said that while the Caribbean citizenship programmes are still popular, many applicants in the UAE are also exploring options in other countries, such as Moldova and Cyprus.

“Since its launch in late 2018, Moldova has been receiving a lot of interest from expats residing in the UAE. As for European citizenship, Cyprus is still the most attractive fast-track option for the ultra-rich,” Cotdemiey said.

St. Kitts & Nevis and Antigua & Barbuda have recently reduced their application costs by 50 per cent. Those who want to obtain a St. Kitts passport will now be required to make a financial contribution of $150,000 for a single applicant, and $175,000 for a couple. In Antigua, an investment of $125,000 for a family of up to four members is required.


  • Expatriates in the UAE who have money to spare are not just splurging on cars, yachts or apartments – they’re spending a fortune on a second citizenship

  • Second passports are increasingly being sought after in this part of the world, as expatriates seek more global mobility or travel freedom

  • Those who have been fortunate to secure a second citizenship are saying goodbye to a life of queues at immigration counters and consulates, and most importantly, from the constant fear for security

Source: Number of UAE expats prepared to spend a fortune for a second passport surges 30%

Protesters in India claim victory as #citizenship bill stalls

Apparent end:

Protesters in northeast India claimed victory on Wednesday after a bill that the government says will help Hindus in neighboring countries settle in India lapsed before it could be ratified by parliament.

The Citizenship Amendment Bill is aimed at helping Hindus and members of other non-Muslim minority communities in neighboring Muslim countries move to India.

But critics say the legislation is as an attempt by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) burnish its Hindu-nationalist credentials ahead of a general election, that must be held by May.

The bill had incited exceptional opposition in remote, ethnically diverse northeastern states where for years residents have complained that migrants from Bangladesh are a burden on society.

For days, protesters have taken to the streets, bringing chaos to several cities in the region. Authorities have responded with curfews and blocks on broadcasters in an attempt to quell the unrest.

The lower house of parliament passed the bill last month but it was not ratified by the upper house before the end of its last session before the election, on Wednesday.

Activists in the northeast welcomed parliament’s failure to push the legislation through.

“This is a moral victory for the people of the northeast with the BJP forced to bow down to the voices of struggle,” Samujjal Bhattacharya, a leader of the All Assam Students’ Union, one of the protesting groups, told Reuters.

Members of the Assam state organization had threatened to “shed blood” to block the bill.

Protests over recent days have also rocked the small state of Manipur, where authorities imposed an indefinite curfew and suspended mobile internet services for five days late on Tuesday, following violent protests.

Police said people were defying the curfew on Wednesday.

Protests also erupted in Mizoram state, where some activists have given voice to old separatist aspirations.

Source: Protesters in India claim victory as citizenship bill stalls