Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon is backing a call to temporary halt deportations during the Covid-19 pandemic to ensure everyone can feel safe to get tested.
An immigration adviser, Howie Yin, who is acting for a client facing deportation, says it is also "heartless and cruel" for Immigration NZ to be breaking up families during these uncertain times.
Foon is backing former immigration minister Tuariki Delamere, who said last week a limited Covid-19 amnesty for overstayers was needed and the ongoing deportation exercise was putting the nation at risk of a virus outbreak.
"I support safe policy without the threat of deportation during the Covid-19 [pandemic], we need to ensure all people feel safe to come forward to be tested so we can all help to stop the spread of the virus," he said.
In an email to the Minister for Ethnic Communities Jenny Salesa, Foon said Delamere was "bang on for his concerns".
Delamere said overstayers who have been possibly exposed or have the virus symptoms are refusing to come forward for testing "because they are afraid of being arrested, detained, jailed and deported".
This is despite assurances by Immigration NZ and Health Minister Chris Hipkins that information collected through the testing process would not be used for immigration purposes.
Delamere said this would mean nothing to overstayers as long as INZ was continuing with deportations.
"They won't trust what the Government says without some sort of amnesty," Delamere said.
The agency has carried out more than 70 deportations and issued a further 50 deportation orders since the Covid-19 outbreak escalated in March.
Yin's client, Xiukun Pang, 56, a Chinese national, is facing deportation after a failed Immigration and Protection Tribunal appeal.
She became unlawful in NZ when her visitor visa expired and her application for a work visa under the family stream to remain with her NZ citizen partner Qiang Xia, also 56, was declined on December 11 last year.
Xia said they shared a common interest in travelling and had been to many cities in China and here, and the friendship soon turned into a love relationship.
They have been living together in New Zealand since March last year.
"We have lived together in love for more than a year and yet INZ still doubt our relationship," Xia said.
"We have provided a lot of evidence to show the authenticity of our relationship, yet we have been repeatedly rejected by INZ, which makes us very angry."
The tribunal has decided against exercising its discretion and ruled that unless Pang leaves NZ within 28 days of its August 4 decision, INZ will deem her to be deported.
In a desperate bid to remain with her partner, Pang has lodged a request for a temporary visa under Section 61 of the Immigration Act as an overstayer.
Yin said it was unfair deportations were being carried out during the pandemic when flights were limited and international travel difficult.
"As a NZ citizen, Xia is not able to go to China because China is not granting any tourist visas," Yin said.
"It just seems heartless and cruel that couples are being separated during this time when people are feeling stressed, anxious and uncertain, and need loved ones around."
There are about 10,000 overstayers estimated to be in the country who cannot be traced.
Stephen Vaughan, INZ's general manager verification and compliance, said deportation cases were being managed in accordance with the deportation and detention provisions under the Immigration Act 2009.
"INZ understands that Covid-19 has impacted many visa holders currently in New Zealand and is taking a reasonable approach to compliance action at this time," he said.
Deportation liability notices and deportation orders, where appropriate, continue to be served to migrants who may be liable for deportation because of criminal activity or other public interest factors.
"The current focus is on managing ongoing priority deportation cases on a case-by-case basis, taking into account each individual's circumstances, international border closures, transit options and the availability of flights," Vaughn said.
He added that people unlawfully in NZ should seek medical advice if they are unwell, and gave the assurance that their treatment will be in complete confidence.