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A review of Dawn Raid tactics calls for law changes to limit their use

In brief
  • The Dawn Raids were “out-of-hours immigration visits” targeting the Polynesian community in the 1970s. 
  • The use of certain tactics have continued, despite an official apology in 2021, sparking a review by MBIE. 
  • Several recommendations have been made tightening Dawn Raid tactics.
  • Despite controversy, there is some support for Dawn Raids from migrant communities because they want to be seen as law abiding.  

What were Dawn Raids? 

Many Pacific Islanders were welcomed to New Zealand on visitor visas to bolster the labour force. Dawn Raids were “out-of-hours immigration visits” by police during the 1970s, targeting alleged Pacific Island overstayers in New Zealand. Justification for this was many overstayers worked and were often not home during the day.

In 1986, the Race Relations Conciliator found the Dawn Raids had overwhelmingly targeted Pacific people. Despite making up only a third of overstayers, Pacific people accounted for 86 percent of related prosecutions. US and UK nationals also made up about a third of total overstayers, but accounted for only five percent of prosecutions.

Protests by the Polynesian Panthers and negative public reaction led to the end of the Dawn Raids by the late 1970s.

A review of Dawn Raid tactics calls for law changes to limit their use - Centrist
NZ Police constable circa 1975. Image by Archives New Zealand

Dawn Raids redux

In 2021, then Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern issued a public apology for these raids.

But on 19 April 2023, Immigration compliance officers raided a Tongan national’s home in the early morning. The man was considered a flight risk and suspected of domestic violence. The incident sparked an independent review by King’s Counsel Michael Heron.

The review was commissioned by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), which Immigration New Zealand falls under, and recommended changes to limit the continued use of dawn raid tactics.

Because of Ardern’s apology, the review said there was a “reasonable expectation that dawn intrusions into houses would cease (or at least be exceptional)” and therefore the 2021 apology appeared to “ring hollow”.

Immigration Minister Andrew Little has apologised on behalf of the Government (again) saying updated guidance on out-of-hours visits should have been introduced soon after  Ardern’s apology.

MBIE chief executive Carolyn Tremain said she’s “continuing a pause” on deportation-related “out-of-hours visits” by compliance officers.

Not everyone is against deporting overstayers

Since 2015, 95 raids located 117 people, of whom 101 were deported. Just eight deportees were Pacific Island nationals compared to 47 Chinese nationals and 21 Indian nationals. 

Despite relatively few Pacific people being affected, Pacific people told the review, “this was still racist – the racism had turned to other parties”. This is a matter of opinion/argument as the reason given by the Government was simply a switch of focus from agriculture visas to construction where Chinese are more prominent. The review found support for the raids by several members of affected ethnic communities.

There were reports from the Indian community that the raids were supported because overstayers threatened to undermine the community’s reputation as law-abiding citizens.

Similar feedback came from the Pacific and Chinese communities, saying there was little support for people flouting the law.

Five recommendations from this review: 
  • Specify criteria for out-of-hours compliance visits and whether those involving residential addresses be stopped altogether, made subject to judicial search warrant, or limited.
  • Reinforce that out-of-hours compliance visits are a last resort.
  • Any assessment of out-of-hours visits should consider relevant cultural factors and the impact on anyone present, particularly children.
  • The decision to make an out-of-hours compliance visit should include an assessment of reasonableness, proportionality and public interest.
  • Out-of-hours compliance activity should be authorised by the relevant compliance manager and the national manager before it can occur.

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