Overstayer reunited with family

By John Cousins

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Police and immigration officials exceeded their legal powers by forcing an Indian woman to put her fingerprints on deportation documents, two separate inquiries have found.

The breach has paved the way for the woman and her family to fight to stay in New Zealand and her husband to be released from jail.

In a victory for the family's efforts to be allowed to stay in New Zealand, Tauranga District Court judge Alayne Wills yesterday freed Satinder Kapila from nearly four months in Waikeria Prison.

Immigration New Zealand did not oppose the application to release Mr Kapila, who was being held pending deportation back to India.

His release followed separate police and immigration investigations which concluded that police, acting on behalf of immigration officers, exceeded their powers by using force to prise open Pooja Kapila's clenched fist in order to obtain her fingerprints for deportation travel documents.

Mr Kapila told the Bay of Plenty Times after his release yesterday that life had been "really bad and hard" in prison and he was happy the family was together again.

Speaking in faltering English through an interpreter, he agreed with immigration consultant Tuariki Delamere the forced taking of his wife's fingerprints turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

As a result of the investigation, Immigration New Zealand has agreed to enter a process whereby the family can lodge an appeal on humanitarian grounds to be allowed to stay in New Zealand. The appeal will be heard within three months by the Immigration and Protection Tribunal.

Mr and Mrs Kapila used their Tauranga-born citizen son Abhay, 9, in a desperate high-stakes gamble to avoid being deported back to India, saying they would sooner leave their son behind to give him a brighter future in New Zealand than condemn him to life in a Punjab slum.

Mr Kapila said their daughter Simran, 14, a pupil at Te Puke High School, could not remember life before New Zealand.

The family arrived 10 years ago and spent years paying an Auckland lawyer to act for them to secure permanent residency. It turned out their last visa extension application was filed in 2005 but they believed the lawyer was still acting for them up until last year when Immigration raided their Te Puke home.

Mrs Kapila said she had felt lonely while her husband was in prison and prayed all the time the family would be together again and allowed to stay in New Zealand.

Mr Delamere said that after the investigation findings were released last week, Mrs Kapila had decided that she did not want disciplinary action taken against the police and immigration staff.

"She realised that they were just trying to do their job and, even though they had caused her injury, they had acted in good faith."

He said that Mrs Kapila was grateful for the personal apologies she had received from police and Immigration New Zealand. They accepted that there had been no malice when the police, acting on instruction from an immigration official, had forcibly taken Mrs Kapila's fingerprints.

Mr Delamere said the immigration tribunal generally made wise decisions and he believed the Kapila family had a good chance of success. The appeal will especially focus on the rights of Abhay as a New Zealand citizen.

He said it turned out to be the family's lucky day when the fingerprints were taken by force, realising that if they played their cards right, it would turn out to be to their advantage. It had been very lucky that the taking of the fingerprints had been witnessed by Te Puke Anglican Deacon and Justice of the Peace, Reverend Marilynn Williams. "I doubt it would have been as strong a case without this impeccable witness. We could not have wished for better."

Rev Williams told the Bay of Plenty Times that she was delighted for the family.

"The kids are happy and young Abhay will be able to come home from school to his mum and dad."

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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