13 December 2019
The government should uphold the rule of law in handling the case of the 12-year-old illegal immigrant (right). Photo: HKEJ
The government should uphold the rule of law in handling the case of the 12-year-old illegal immigrant (right). Photo: HKEJ

Politicians should learn lesson from illegal immigrant’s case

Hong Kong takes pride in the rule of law, one of its core values. Its legal framework is transparent and fair to all people living in the city, and there should be no exception.

However, the case of the undocumented 12-year-old boy from the mainland has raised public concern that the government is willing to break its own rules due to a high-profile intervention by a politician.

On Monday, about a hundred people marched from Causeway Bay to the Immigration Department in Wan Chai, demanding the government send the illegal immigrant back to the mainland.

They said the government will set a bad precedent if it allows the boy to continue living here with his grandmother.

Last week, pro-Beijing lawmaker Chan Yuen-han held a press conference on the case of the undocumented immigrant, who has been staying with his grandmother since he was three years old.

Chan admitted that in bringing the case to the media, she wanted to put pressure on the government to rule in favor of the boy.

Consequently, the boy has been given temporary papers to remain in the territory, while his 67-year-old grandmother was arrested on suspicion of helping him breach his conditions of stay.

In a statement, the Immigration Department said it has just started an investigation into the case, adding that it will not use its discretionary right to grant him the right of abode.

It seems the government is adopting a tough stance on the boy’s case. That is best for Hong Kong’s interests. The city should not allow the abuse of its social services such as education, medical support and welfare.

But while the case is under investigation, the boy was taken to a primary school for an assessment on his learning abilities. That, of course, means he may be allowed to attend a local school, and most likely, his education will be paid for by Hong Kong taxpayers.

As of Monday, the Immigration Department said it has no comment on the boy’s admission to a local school. 

But such an arrangement will set a bad precedent on how the government should deal with illegal immigrants.

Yes, Hong Kong law requires all children of suitable age to be admitted to school for formal education. But in the case of illegal immigrants, their parents or guardians should bear the cost as they are not permanent residents of Hong Kong.

The government should focus on the fact that the boy has been illegally staying in Hong Kong for more than nine years, rather than show him kindness by giving him free education.

It is the widespread view of Hong Kong people that the boy should be sent back to the mainland once his identity is verified. They find no reason for the government to extend his stay in the city and allow him to avail himself of the city’s resources and social benefits.

The boy’s case is likely to fuel anti-mainland sentiments among the Hong Kong public.

In many online forums, internet users believe that the government should send the boy back to the mainland without any hesitation or any other consideration. They assert that everyone in Hong Kong should respect the law, and the boy’s case has crossed the red line.

Pro-Beijing politicians like Chan Yuen-han should not be allowed to pressure the government to bend its rules or change its policy on illegal immigrants, or abuse the kindness of Hong Kong people to accommodate illegal immigrants.

Chan admitted to the media that she was putting pressure on the Immigration Department to handle the case in the boy’s favor. But what is her ultimate goal in bringing up the issue in such a high-profile manner?

One cannot be blamed for thinking that she is taking up the case so she can win votes from mainland immigrants in the city.

Should the boy be granted the right of abode, similar cases are bound to follow, and no one knows exactly how many illegal immigrants are hiding in Hong Kong.

But given the prevailing anti-mainland sentiment in the city, Chan has failed to convince the general public that the government should allow the boy to stay here as a permanent resident.

That should be an object lesson for all politicians who think that they could exploit the inherent kindness of Hong Kong people to help illegal immigrants: all they will reap is the public’s anger.

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EJ Insight writer