Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 30 November 2016
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Children and Youth Affairs
Undocumented Children: Discussion
As we have a quorum, we will commence. I remind members to switch off their mobile phones. The first item on the agenda today is a meeting with representatives from Migrants Right Centre Ireland. I welcome Ms Edel McGinley, director of Migrant Rights Centre Ireland. She is joined by her colleagues, Ms Kate O'Connell, community and youth worker, and Mr. Pablo Rojas Coppari, policy and research officer. I thank the witnesses for taking the time to appear before the committee today.
I draw the attention of witnesses to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. I also advise witnesses that any submission or opening statements they make to the committee will be published on the committee website after this meeting.
I understand that Ms McGinley will make a short presentation, which will be followed by questions from members. I invite Ms McGinley to make her opening statement.
Ms Edel McGinley:
My name is Edel McGinley and I am the director of Migrant Rights Centre Ireland. The three of us will give a short presentation between us. I am joined by Ms Kate O'Connell, our community and youth worker, and Mr. Pablo Rojas Coppari, our policy and research officer. Usually, somebody who is affected by the issue would present with us. However, because of the nature of the issue we are dealing with and the fact that the proceedings are televised, young people did not want to appear on camera or be visible. A number of undocumented young people are with us today so members are welcome to speak to them afterwards if they so wish.
Migrant Rights Centre Ireland has been in existence for approximately 15 years and has been working with undocumented people during that time. We appeared before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice and Equality two weeks ago in respect of this issue and the broader regularisation of undocumented people in the State. The Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality will be coming before that committee in the coming weeks to discuss the regularisation of undocumented people.
I will provide some background. Migrant Rights Centre Ireland estimates that there are between 20,000 and 26,000 undocumented people in the State. We also estimate that there are between 2,000 and 5,000 undocumented children and young people under 18 in the State. An infographic accompanying our submission states that we surveyed over 1,000 undocumented people and found that 84% of them have lived in the State for five years or more and that 89% are working. These are the parents of the undocumented children and young people we are talking about.
Since the 2005 referendum, children born in this State do not have the right to citizenship or residency. A person is not required to register with the Garda National Immigration Bureau, GNIB, when he or she is under 16. An individual only registers when he or she is over 16. Children are dependent on their parents' status for their own status. Therefore, children born to undocumented parents have no independent status because they are tied to their parents until they are 18.
We refer to the children with whom we work having a triple vulnerability in that they are vulnerable as children, as migrants and because they are undocumented. I intend to focus in my introduction on three issues for these children, namely, the fear and stigma they face, the impact on their mental health and the prospect for them of a restricted or blocked future. Through our work with young people in the past 15 years and particularly through the Young, Paperless and Powerful campaign since 2015, these are the main issues we are encountering. Children become aware of their parents' immigration status from an early age. It is a secret they must hide and there is no scope to be open about this aspect of their lives. This can have a massive impact on their mental health and well-being and prove detrimental to their progression. Many of the young people we speak to believe gardaí can come into their homes, take them away and summarily deport them. Although this is not the case, the perception is that it can happen at any time. It is a massive worry to bear as a young person.
There is often huge mistrust of authority because of this fear of deportation, which means people are reluctant to report crimes. A group of young people we worked with were attacked on the street in a racist incident but were afraid to go to the Garda to seek support and assistance and report that crime. Young people in this situation often feel they need to protect their families and so avoid situations where they might have to disclose their own or their parents' undocumented status. They very much act as protectors of their parents, which is a huge burden to have to take on. We see a great deal of stress, anxiety and depression among young people in this regard. In addition, many young people are dislocated in terms of not having access to their extended families in their countries of origin. Migrant children often have multiple identities. Children we work with talk about being Irish but also having another identity which, nevertheless, they do not really understand because they are unable to make a connection with their extended families. Many young migrants arrived here at a young age and have not returned to their home country since.
In terms of restricted futures, young undocumented migrants are engaged throughout secondary school but when the time comes to sit the leaving certificate, their futures become very uncertain. There is a loss of hope as they deal with the reality that they do not have a right to go to college or work. Faced with that scenario, some young people give up and others work harder. It is a very mixed bag in terms of how people progress. The State invests in these young people at primary and secondary level but they cannot proceed to third level because they are subject to international fees which can be tens of thousands of euro. Their parents are often working in low-income jobs and cannot afford to send their children to college. We are seeing a trend where young people who have turned 18 are entering into low-paid work and potentially exploitative conditions of employment. A cycle of potential poverty is being perpetuated because these young people do not have access to training or education and cannot transfer the skills, talents and experiences they have amassed over their years in school.
I will be pleased to take questions from members in due course. Before that, I ask my colleague, Ms Kate O'Connell, to tell the committee more about the work we are doing with children and young people.
Ms Kate O'Connell:
I am a community-based youth worker for the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland, which has been working with undocumented migrants and migrants in general for many years. Over time, more undocumented young people began to come to our attention, attend our centre and turn up in our campaign groups. These young people were looking for a space where they could come together and try to reclaim some power over their lives and futures. They were seeking collective spaces where they could be with other people who faced the same issues, let their guard down and share experiences. We formed Young, Paperless and Powerful, YPP, in May 2015 and have been working together for 18 months. It is a creative, dynamic and fun-filled space, although serious issues are also discussed. The participants have taken part in a number of creative actions over the lifetime of the project. For example, they created a mural on Dame Lane in Dublin city centre, which I encourage members to see. It uses the motif of a bird flying from a cage and the motto "Sky is the Limit, not Papers". It was the first endeavour which sought to lay down a marker and allow these young people to try to retake control in their lives and effect change for themselves.
YPP has made many powerful friends in the past 18 months. On International Youth Day we had a spoken-word event that was opened by the Ombudsman for Children. Our campaign has been endorsed by more than 50 business, civil society and community groups, including the Children's Rights Alliance, the National Youth Council of Ireland, Foróige and the Union of Students in Ireland. Unfortunately, we are unable to show a video today that was made by the group, but the link is included in our document and I urge members to watch it. We are trying to bring the voices of young people into this space but, as Ms McGinley noted, there is a challenge in doing that. I intend now to read a short case study of one of the young people in our group, Sara Jane, which helps to give a sense of the lives of these young people. Second, I will read a short spoken word piece written by one of our participants as part of a creative project.
Sara Jane is 17 years old and has been undocumented for nine years. She was eight years old when she first moved to Ireland from Mauritius to join her parents, nine months after they had come to the State. Her parents came to Ireland with student visas, which do not allow dependants, and were unable to apply for official family reunification. Despite significant efforts, Sara Jane's father was unable to transition to a work permit visa after seven years of studying and residing regularly in Ireland. As a result, he became undocumented and Sara Jane was unable to regularise her status when she turned 16. Sara Jane's parents continue to work and pay taxes in Ireland. Sara Jane is now in sixth year in secondary school and wants to study law. The reality, however, is that unless she can regularise her status, her family will not be able to pay the enormous international fees needed to take up any CAO offer of a place in university. This is despite her parents' significant and continuous tax contribution over the past nine years.
The author of the spoken-word piece graciously workshopped it with me yesterday afternoon, so I hope to do it justice. It reads as follows:
Why do I have to feel this way ?
I feel imprisoned
Unable to grow
Unable to escape
I'm silently going through my everyday tasks
But on the inside I'm screaming to break out
I hate small talk and pursuing small empty dreams
I'm scared I'm going to end up
Like everyone in this place
And it's slowly driving me insane
But how do I escape?
If only you know what goes through our minds when we're all looking into our phone screen to block ourselves from reality
Cause reality has become too depressing
No one has ever asked me this question...
'Are you really okay '
I'd break down if anyone does but I'll still say yes with a smile on my face
Because this world taught me that as a young person you don't matter.
You're not worth it. You're just looking for attention. You're just going through a phrase. You're over
thinking. Things will get better in a blink of an eye.
And I blinked... I blinked And nothing happened.
Seven years in a Ireland and I'm still undocumented. I blinked and nothing has changed yet.
I blinked and only thing that happened is that I miss a second from reaching my goals.
I blinked and my dreams shattered. I blinked and I'm still the same...
I'm still blinking hoping for a change. Hoping that this world will be a better place for us.
Hoping Ireland will change their view of immigrants like ME
I can't just wait for things to magically fall into place
If I truly want to live,
If I want to be free, then change has to start today.
Mr. Pablo Rojas Coppari:
Yes. I want to take members through the recent developments that led to our making a presentation today. As my colleague, Ms McGinley, mentioned, we have been in front of the Committee on Justice and Equality on two occasions addressing the issue of undocumented migrants, including children. We made a presentation to the previous justice committee a year ago. Its Chairman is now the Minister of State with responsibility for immigration, Deputy David Stanton. The committee's report following our presentation in November 2015 recommended the introduction a regularisation scheme for undocumented migrants and children. It was a reasonable and strong recommendation. The committee wrote to the Minister for Justice and Equality in this regard seeking a response. That was in November 2015. In a presentation to the Committee on Justice and Equality two weeks ago, the Chairman and members felt strongly that a solution must be found for undocumented migrants, including children, in this context.
When the Dáil rose in February, there was cross-party support for the introduction of a regularisation scheme, as recommended by the justice committee and the human rights committee. That was followed in February 2016 by the recommendation made by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. In reviewing Ireland's progress on realising its international commitments under the UN convention, the committee concluded that all children are entitled to full protection and the implementation of their rights under the convention irrespective of their parents' legal status. It recommended that Ireland expeditiously adopt a comprehensive legal immigration framework in accordance with international legal standards and ensure it provided formal procedures for conferring immigration status on children and their families who are in an irregular migration situation.
In July 2016, Migrant Rights Centre Ireland and the young people's empowerment group met members of the advisory council of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs to discuss the issues facing children and young people in Ireland and the policy solution of introducing regularisation. A request for a meeting has been sent to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Katherine Zappone, to discuss the issue. We are awaiting a response on the matter.
Let me highlight two actions taken since July. In September 2016, as members are familiar, the United Nations held a migrant and refugee summit in which one of the core points was on addressing the needs of children in migration. The outcome of the summit is what is called the New York declaration. There was heavy input by the Irish Government through its representation in New York. There was a commitment to address the needs of migrant children and refugees. That commitment has been followed by Commissioner Jourová in the European Commission. Yesterday, the European Commission held what is called the European Forum on the Rights of the Child, one of the priorities of which involved addressing the circumstances of migrant children and the adoption of an EU action plan on children in migration. One of the outcomes of both the New York declaration and the EU forum was on the adoption of immigration systems that have the best interest of the child at their core. As my colleague said, Ireland does not have an immigration system that has the best interest of the child at its core. The issue we are hearing about today, that of undocumented children and young people, is the consequence.
I have submitted documentation on the proposal that Migrant Rights Centre Ireland has put to the Committee on Justice and Equality to address the circumstances of undocumented migrants, including children. We believe these are the minimum standards that must be implemented to address the issue of undocumented migrants, including children, and to meet our commitments under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, including the recommendations to implement a regularisation scheme for undocumented children and their families. As such, I will not go into the details of the proposal but I will be happy to take questions afterwards.
Let me conclude by outlining our recommendations for this committee. We urge the committee to consider the implications of irregular status on the realisation of commitments made by the State under the Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures national policy framework, particularly in so far as it relates to two commitments. Commitment No. 2.22 commits the State to strengthening social inclusion measures and reinvigorating efforts to improve educational outcomes among, and the integration of, migrant children. Commitment 3.7 is to introduce and enact an immigration, residence and protection Bill to address comprehensively the interaction of migrant children with the immigration system and introduce a children-centred immigration policy.
Our main recommendation for today is that this committee urge the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Katherine Zappone, and the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, to introduce a regularisation scheme that will address the recommendation from the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and offer a pragmatic solution to undocumented families and children living in Ireland.
I thank Mr. Rojas Coppari, Ms O'Connell and Ms McGinley for their presentations. Will they clarify what they mean by "undocumented"? Are we talking about children who arrive in the State with absolutely no recognition whatsoever, such as children who come over on a boat or by other such means? Does it cover people in reception centres? Where does the concept of "undocumented" begin and end?
Ms Edel McGinley:
When we talk about undocumented people, we are talking about people who do not have legal status in the State. As I said, children do not have to register with the Garda National Immigration Bureau up to the age of 16. Technically, they are linked to their parents' immigration status so they have none if their parents have none. Generally, parents enter the State on tourist visas and student visas and they may overstay. Children enter in various ways. They join their families on tourist visas or use other forms of entry to the State. We are not really talking about direct provision or the refugee system but about an immigration system that is separate from asylum and refugee issues. Really, we are talking about immigration. Since children are linked to the immigration status of their parents, we are talking about those parents who overstay in respect of their immigration status. The two types of affected children we find in the State are children born to undocumented parents and children who come here between the ages of four and 13, for example, to join their parents. These are the two cohorts of children and young people about whom we are talking. They are very separate from children in direct provision.
I thank Ms McGinley for clarifying that. It was helpful to me. Other members may not have needed the clarification.
I propose to take questions in two groups. Deputies Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire and Anne Rabbitte and Senator Máire Devine are first.
I thank the delegates for attending. Their presentation was very interesting. I have a number of questions, the first of which was largely covered by Ms McGinley.
In the infographic provided by the witnesses, it caught my eye that almost 80% of undocumented migrants are from three countries. Is there a particular reason for that? Two of them are very populous countries. Is there a particular reason why 37% are from the Philippines, 19% are from China and 19% are from Mauritius? What is particular to those countries that means there is a substantial number coming? Is it something to do with visas?
The fear of going to the gardaí when crimes are committed against these young people was mentioned. When young people go to the gardaí, how do they find them? Is that leading to a significant under-reporting of crime and racist incidents? I imagine it is.
Are there significant child protection issues with regard to child protection legislation? A substantial part of the witnesses' presentation was about a regularisation programme. There is a bit of detail about that and it looks quite comprehensive. Was there a previous regularisation scheme in the State? If not, are there other models internationally that we could take some example from?
It is about 12 months since the International Protection Act was signed into law. Has that made a significant difference in terms of these young people's perception of the threats and difficulties they face? Has it made a difference in reality to any of the barriers they face in education or access to justice?
I thank the witnesses for coming here this morning. It was a very worthwhile presentation. It was fantastic and sobering for 9 o'clock on a Wednesday morning to say the least. I come from a place near Gort. Gort has Brazilians. We have a huge number of undocumented living in Gort. The barriers they face on a daily basis are unbelievable. Their parents came, worked and paid their taxes and have probably overstayed their visit. The issue of the children is unbelievable. The under-reporting, fear of reporting and fear of talking about any issue that arises for fear they will be sent home or separated from their parents is unbelievable. We ask what they are afraid of. If there is bullying taking place at school, they are afraid to approach the teacher for fear of putting their head above the parapet. They are afraid of the same thing if there is bullying within their community or any other sort of violence perpetrated on a child within their community. There is also the issue of violence against the female parent which is particularly relevant at this time when we talk about violence against women. They are afraid all the time to speak up. I acknowledge the work of the family resource centre. This is what I am leading to. What is the MRCI's relationship with various other groups throughout the country that are trying to support or protect the undocumented? The Gort family resource centre is doing a power of work in trying to facilitate getting people documented but are hitting continual barriers. The link with the local communities right down to the family resource centre and the developing of policy to assist is important. Has the MRCI done surveys on the under-reporting, as Deputy Ó Laoghaire asked about? I am talking about bullying and sexual assault on children. Are there any other studies to prove that by not regularising them we are failing to protect them in society?
I thank the witnesses for the report. They have given us an understanding of the fear, alienation, loneliness and the experience of being in a place where one cannot settle and call home.
I have a number of observations. The diagram presented by the witnesses shows that the position of undocumented migrants in Ireland is the very same as in the US. We are great at lobbying and trying to regularise those in the US. Is there lobbying from the 80% of people from the top three areas - the Philippines, Mauritius and China - for regularisation as powerfully as our lobbying in the States is?
Is there a further explanation for how one falls into irregularity? Sara Jane's father was here on a study visa. I am just a bit confused. How, after seven years, did he become undocumented? He was working and paying taxes. There is some status there. They will take the money but will they do anything else? Could the witnesses provide further explanation of that?
How significant is restricted access to support services such as mental health services or third level education to children? I imagine once they reach 16, they need to become documented. One would imagine that at 16, they are still in full-time education and trying to access third level education. How does it affect access to health services?
The MRCI has been established for about 15 years. The witnesses talked briefly about it. How long ago did the issue of a significant number of undocumented children come onto the radar of the MRCI and encourage them to do something about it? The numbers within Ireland are 26,000. How does that compare to our neighbours? Europe is quite different. We are talking about undocumented as opposed to refugees or asylum seekers. Will the witnesses give us an idea of how Ireland compares?
Ms Edel McGinley:
I will divide the questions among us. I will ask Mr. Pablo Rojas Coppari to take the question on the nationalities. Reporting to the gardaí is an ongoing issue not only for young people but for undocumented people in general. We do not have any other studies on it other than the information we collect in our database system from people coming into our service. We have a lot of case studies of people who do not report crimes to the Garda. That is a huge fear for people. People do not want to be visible. If they go to the gardaí and the gardaí realise they are undocumented, they have a duty to ensure they receive a section 3 letter or a section 4 letter, where they have to report. People do not want to trigger things that may potentially result in their deportation so often things go unreported. That is a worry for young people and in terms of crime prevention.
We have a very good working relationship with the family resource centre in Gort. They are very good friends of ours. The national family resource centres have endorsed the campaign, as have a number of smaller community groups and local groups. We work a lot in Cork, Galway and Waterford - some of the bigger areas where there are undocumented people resident. There are particular pockets where people are resident. I will let Mr. Pablo Rojas Coppari talk about the linkage to nationality. It is significant, particularly in Gort, where networks of migration build up and people come to a particular place because they have a connection to that place. There may be extended family there or friend and that expands in terms of the people who are coming to a particular place.
Mr. Pablo Rojas Coppari:
I will start with the question on previous regularisation schemes. We have implemented a number of regularisations over the years. The largest one was in 2005 called the Irish born child scheme, which was a direct consequence of the change in our citizenship legislation.
There was a ruling from the Supreme Court in 2003 that said the parents of Irish children did not have an automatic right to residence in the State as part of the change in legislation in 2005 following the 2004 referendum. The Department of Justice and Equality decided to implement a regularisation called the Irish born child scheme addressing the needs of parents of children who had Irish citizenship. That regularised approximately 17,000 people at the time. There have been minor regularisations since, one was called the undocumented worker scheme in 2009 that addressed more or less 2,000 applicants. It was such a success that the Government decided to introduce it as a permanent mechanism in our employment permit legislation which means that any person who entered the country legally on a work permit and fell out of that system could apply to regularise their status. We have also introduced several policy measures to ensure that people keep their legal status. They are not regularisation procedures but they are measures to ensure that people do not fall into irregularity. Some parts of the International Protection Act 2015 have already commenced, some are due to commence between now and early in the new year. The Act deals exclusively with the means by which people can apply for and obtain forms of international protection including refugee status and subsidiary protection so it does not cover the category of people we are dealing with. It is part of what was intended to be the immigration residents and protection Bill which would address the immigration and residency needs of the broader migrant population in the State so it does not cover the category of people we are discussing today.
To answer the question about nationality. There are two reasons for this: these also represent the largest non-EU communities in Ireland. Irregular migration is somehow related to migration trends, the Philippinos, Chinese and Mauritians constitute a large population of migrants in Ireland regardless. It is also to deal with the difficulty for a person who is undocumented to obtain a visa and different migration patterns. I do not think there is any government to government lobbying from these countries. They have different approaches to migration. Approximately 10% of the population of the Philippines lives abroad. It has put in place many measures to protect the interests of their nationals abroad such as an overseas fund. The Philippine embassy can be supportive to undocumented migrants here. Other countries, such as China, do not recognise the status of their migrants. From the official perspective there is no such thing as a Chinese emigrant. Mauritius does not have an embassy here which makes it more difficult. The peculiarity of the Irish undocumented in the United States and the long-established advocacy to regularise their situation comes from a very strong policy in the Irish State and a long-standing emigration pattern over generations whereas the history of immigrants to Ireland is much shorter.
In response to the question of how people fall into irregularity, one of the main reasons was a rapid change in Government policy in 2011 in which people residing here as students could not stay longer than seven years in total. This would have been the case of the father of Sara-Jane who lived here for seven years as a student and when the policy was introduced it was implemented immediately and there was no transitional measure for allow someone like him who had been studying and working for a certain period to remain here or move to an employment permit or other formal status. Automatically everyone who was living here for seven years or reaching the seven year limit was told they had to return home. Many people who had invested effort, money, built families and put down roots here decided to stay here undocumented and hope that over time a solution would be introduced to address their needs. The Government did introduce that for certain categories of migrants but it is very complicated. I can discuss that with the committee afterwards but do not want to take up other people's time. This is a very good example of how people become undocumented, mainly as a result of policy changes that do not take full consideration of the implications for the population.
The main barrier to accessing support is that the rights and entitlements of a child younger than 18 are assessed on the basis of the parents' status. Even if children younger than 16 do not have to provide their immigration status they are assessed on the basis of their parents' status. Another main barrier is access to personal public service, PPS, numbers. Even though everyone residing in the State is entitled to a PPS number regardless of legal status, for a child to obtain one he or she must prove that his or her parents have one. As undocumented persons they are routinely barred from obtaining PPS numbers because they need to provide proof of employment or other reasons why they are seeking a PPS number. That is the most common barrier to accessing services.
The undocumented population in Ireland is approximately 0.5% of the overall population, which is significantly lower than countries such as the United States and other countries in Europe where that coefficient would generally be around 1.5%. That is to do with how geographically isolated we are and the migration routes and trends in the State.
Ms Edel McGinley:
On the point about PPS numbers and being employed in the State many people we work with have PPS numbers and would have obtained them a long time ago. They are working and paying tax and contributing to the economy and the State as taxpayers and in terms of consumer spending. The scheme we are proposing is an income generating scheme. The State is losing up to €41 million per annum by not regularising this group of people and it would cost €100,000 to deport all the people in these circumstances. They are all pretty significant figures in respect of loss of revenue and potential costs to the State in respect of this issue. There is also the cost of inaction in the loss of potential in children's lives and the future impact of that.
I will move to the second round of questions and will begin with some of my own. How does MRCI compile its figures? The 5,000 undocumented children in the State is the equivalent of the number in foster care in the State. I am fascinated by the clear demarcation between services that are available and those that are not. Can the children avail of foster care? How far are we going to protect these children? They can access national school and the Garda services but not the Ombudsman. Is there any move toward that? I know the Ombudsman is talking about children in reception centres. Can these children access the Ombudsman's services?
Deputy Jan O'Sullivan is the next speaker and she might be able to give us some insight from her time as Minister for Education and Skills. She was very involved in refugees accessing third level education. Was there any discussion at that time about undocumented people being able to access third level education? Have we made any progress on that issue?
I thank the witnesses who have given us a very good picture of how these young people are trapped in a situation.
The two pieces that Ms O'Connell read provided us with an understanding.
I might start with the Chairman's point. As a result of the recommendations of the group that examined direct provision, the Department of Education and Skills made a change while I was there. If a child had been at school in Ireland for three of the five years prior to doing the leaving certificate, he or she could attend college without paying international fees and would be eligible for Student Universal Support Ireland, SUSI, grants, etc. To answer the Chairman's question, we only dealt with people in the asylum system because we were implementing a direct recommendation, but there is no reason that the same should not apply to the children of undocumented families. The principle is the same, namely, the right of the child to access higher and further education. The committee should explore this possibility and bring something to the Department of Education and Skills.
The first round of questioning elicited a great deal of information, so we might move on to discussing what we can do to address what the witnesses have brought to us. The report of the previous justice committee to which Mr. Rojas Coppari referred could be circulated to us. I am sure that we could access it anyway.
Mr. Rojas Coppari also mentioned the fact that there was no ongoing and limited regularisation scheme. Will he provide us with more information on that point? He stated that it was for people on work permits rather than student permits. Is there a way of expanding the scheme or introducing a new regularisation scheme?
Although we have a UN charter and the rights of the child have been put into the Constitution, it seems that the rights of children in this situation are not as full as they should be. Has anyone taken a case? Perhaps one cannot be taken. Given the situation these people are in, they might find it difficult to challenge this, so should we pursue the issue?
Ms O'Connell mentioned the Ombudsman for Children as being an ally in some way. The Chairman asked whether that office would be of use in expanding the rights of young people in this situation.
Following on from Deputy Ó Laoghaire's question, I will try to identify trends in the figures. When the MRCI started recording them, did it find peaks and troughs in when people became undocumented? It is a pipeline issue if it is down to visas, in that, when a holiday or student visa expires, the person becomes undocumented. Are there trends?
Like everyone, I thank the delegation for its presentation. I will admit to a truth - my mind must be narrow, as I had no idea that being undocumented was not the same as being asylum seekers or refugees. I am sorry about that. I should have been aware of it because my other half works with the undocumented Irish in New York. As such, I know the horrendous problems that the witnesses have mentioned.
Please forgive my ignorance if it is the case, but if undocumented people can access certain elements, for example, their PPS numbers, services and so on, what number cannot access third level education? Are there children who can access it and, if so, is it because their parents have PPS numbers? I would like more clarity on the figures. In some respects, the undocumented seem to be okay. In New York, if an undocumented person has a broken tail light and is caught by the police, he or she can be deported immediately. Is the same the case here? I am unsure of the legal aspect.
Are schools aware that the children are undocumented and what is their attitude to that? What sorts of service can the children access? Can they access mental health services? Is the MRCI afraid to let services know that these people are undocumented?
I apologise for being late, but I am aware of the organisation and have read the documentation that it forwarded to the committee. Like Senator Freeman, I wish to clarify the situation in which people find themselves. When people come to Ireland on work visas, are they restricted in how much they can work? The witnesses referred to €41 million lost to the State in revenue, but they also mentioned that these people paid taxes. Where is the loss? Are they working extra hours that they should not be working? Should they be allowed to work full-time?
What is the Garda's approach to this? Deputy Rabbitte referred to it being common knowledge that undocumented people were living in Gort. Is the Garda National Immigration Bureau aware of undocumented people? Does the Garda turn a blind eye? If the people in question come to the Garda's attention for some reason, is it obliged to begin the deportation process? How are there so many undocumented people who technically should not be in Ireland but are working and paying taxes here? No action seems to be taken against them. Why is that? What is the Garda's attitude? How many are being deported if they come to the Garda's attention?
The witnesses mentioned the one-off regularisation - I find it difficult to say that as well - programme and referred to a four-year requirement to take it. What about everyone who has not been in Ireland for four years? What about everyone who will come to Ireland from this point onwards and become undocumented? Will we be sitting here in ten or 15 years' time with the same number of undocumented children because we have not put a process in place to provide them an avenue to becoming a resident or citizen?
In terms of status, a child is attached to his or her parents until reaching 16 years of age. If the child is born in Ireland, he or she does not get residency or become a citizen automatically. When they reach 16 years of age and are no longer attached to their parents, what are their options if they were born in the State, have always lived here and have been going to school here? How is the voice of the child facilitated? Is there an application process for such children? If not, should we be doing something for them? To where would such a child be deported? Nowhere, because Ireland is home, but such children have no status and are no longer linked to their parents. How could we work around this issue?
What is the MRCI's relationship with Tusla and the ISPCC?
If the Chairman does not mind. I mentioned Gort, but it was an example. The people in Gort are well integrated, well got and so on. It is important that I say this for their protection, just in case they hear anything later and become worried.
Following on from one of Deputy Chambers's questions, when a child is born in a hospital, is that birth recorded regardless of whether his or her parents are documented? Is there a gathering of such figures? They would be illustrative. The child is protected from birth onwards.
Ms Edel McGinley:
We will take a few of the questions together.
Mr. Rojas Coppari has explained that access to services is related to the situation of one's parents. Ireland is very good at providing access to primary and secondary school. Children of undocumented parents do not have problems accessing school. Outcomes are different because if their parents are in low-paid jobs, there are poverty issues. They might also be living in small and cramped accommodation. Therefore, outcomes, as opposed to access, are also important to consider.
As an organisation, we have a child protection policy in place. If issues of child protection come to our attention, we will report them to Tusla's social work department. We do not see the fact of being undocumented in itself as a child protection issue. Child protection arises when there is abuse or some other such issue, which we would pursue. This does not prohibit social workers or anybody else from acting in the best interests of the child in these cases. Neither is this something we come across hugely in our work dealing with this group of people. A minimal number of child protection issues come through to our services. However, we have a duty of care and we would report any such issues and go through the proper channels if we had concerns in this regard.
Deputy O'Sullivan asked what we can do. I will conclude on this critical issue. Some undocumented children have been here a long time, and we need to do something. Regarding peaks and troughs, we needed workers during the Celtic tiger era. Our immigration system was not fit for purpose. We developed policy and immigration legislation in an ad hocand piecemeal way that could not respond to the demand of the labour market, so we saw many people come here to take up employment. The key drivers of irregular migration are employment and family ties. If there is no work in a country, people do not go there. When people do come to a country, they set down roots and want their families to join them. We must clean up the system. This is a residue of a broken system from a long time ago.
To respond to Deputy Chambers, we need to put in place on an ongoing basis what we will need in the future. What we have proposed is a bare minimum. If we want to do something proper for children in an ongoing way, we need a mechanism in our immigration system that allows children born to undocumented people in the State to regularise their situations on an ongoing basis. The committee should consider how this might be done and what it might look like. We can refer back to the committee with recommendations in this regard.
I ask the Deputy to let the witnesses conclude rather than engaging in individual toing and froing. If she wishes, I will let the Deputy contribute further after the witnesses have concluded if there is something to clarify.
Ms Edel McGinley:
We will be back in this situation if proper labour migration policy and immigration frameworks are not put in place in the State and if we do not introduce an immigration and residence Bill. There needs to be some joined-up thinking as to how we might achieve this. This should happen across a number of Departments, including those with responsibility for justice, jobs and children.
I will hand over to Mr. Rojas Coppari if he wants to answer a few more of the questions.
Mr. Pablo Rojas Coppari:
I will start with the Chairman's question about the statistics and how we came up with them. As the committee knows, the problem with undocumented or irregular migration is that it is unknown. No one has accurate figures on it, including the State. They are very hard to come by. Undocumented migration is calculated by examining a number of people who were apprehended by the State and in whose cases the process of deportation was started. A number of people are issued with deportation orders that are not enforced. We are talking about 13,000 people, more or less. On top of that, a number of people are undetected, which means that the State and the authorities do not know whether they are resident in the country. We used a coefficient derived from studies of the most similar country to ours, namely, the United Kingdom. The figures are based on the number of visas and permits issued every year. A percentage of those granted visas and permits overstay their residence. All together, we came up with three estimates, what we call low, medium and high estimates, to allow for these three types of situation. This is outlined on the reverse of the infographic distributed to the committee. The figure is stated as ranging from 20,000 to 26,000 because we have used a low to a high estimate. This allows for the impossibility of arriving at an exact estimate and follows models that have been used abroad.
I will address some of the other points raised. Neither asylum and direct provision nor any other issue related to immigration falls within the Ombudsman for Children's remit. In so far as undocumented children are children, certain aspects of the issue fall under the ombudsman's remit, but interaction with the immigration system does not, which is a problem. I refer back to my point about prioritising the best interests of the child in all aspects of our legislation, including immigration legislation.
Deputy Jan O'Sullivan talked about limited regularisation. It is limited in the sense that it is done only for people who have entered the country with an employment permit. The main reason there are pockets of undocumented people in the State is that, as Ms McGinley said, there are many issues with our employment permit legislation and it is very problematic. In addressing the issue of irregular migration as a whole, we need to reform our immigration system, including our labour migration system.
Deputy Chambers asked questions about work restrictions and so on. In general, there are two types of employment restriction. People on employment permits are tied to one employer and one job and have very limited opportunities to change employment. A person arrives to work for one employer and must stay under a system called the employment permit system for five years before he or she is given the right to change employer or sector. Therefore, because in this system people cannot change employment unless they go through a very difficult process, they can fall out of the system. In recognition of this problem, this regularisation mechanism was introduced. The Deputy talks about extending it. We would propose a solution to the problem of everyone else, that is, people who arrived on student and other types of visas. The other type of restriction we have concerns people who are here as international students, who number about 40,000. They can work for 20 hours per week, 40 hours during very specific holiday terms.
Regarding taxes and why some people pay taxes while others do not, it depends on how one entered the State. If one did so on a valid permit such as a student permit, it would have been possible to secure a PPS number. If one has a PPS number, one gives it to one's employer. There are no other checks and the employer can pay tax in respect of the person. Of course, not every employer wants to do so, and if the worker does not have legal status, he or she does not have the bargaining power to request the employer to pay taxes. This is why we find only about 30% of people who are undocumented are paying taxes. When we talk about loss of revenue, we are talking about all the other 60% or 70% of people who were able to get PPS numbers or to ask their employers to pay taxes on their behalf. This is how we estimate the loss in revenue.
Deputy O'Sullivan also spoke about our commitments under the UN Charter. The problem about making a complaint is that Ireland has not signed up to the optional protocol that allows for individual complaints. Therefore, undocumented children cannot make individual complaints that we are failing to protect their rights under the charter. However, collective complaints are made, and the UN committee recommendation is a direct result of this. The UN committee has told Ireland it must implement regularisation. There are other avenues we can explore, such as making a collective complaint under the European Convention on Human Rights to the Council of Europe and so on.
Regarding interaction with the police and what happens if undocumented people are apprehended, Ireland does not have summary deportations, as Ms McGinley mentioned, so people cannot be picked up and deported.
Once one is apprehended, the deportation process starts, under which one can make an appeal for an application called a humanitarian leave to remain. The waiting time for an answer is approximately two years. The process can be triggered only when one is apprehended by a garda or an immigration officer.
Although Ireland signs approximately 2,000 to 3,000 deportation orders per year, it enforces only approximately 250 deportations per year. Only approximately 10% of people who are given deportation orders are deported, which is a good thing in our eyes. However, it is problematic given that Ireland is declining to deport people, for many reasons, but not giving them status. Their lives are blocked and they do not have access to services.
As Ms McGinley mentioned, we are faced with a number of people who are in an irregular situation. Introducing a regularisation system for people will address this. As I said earlier, the threshold could be, for example, four years. This is the minimum that can be done to address it. The committee is welcome to recommend something broader if it sees fit. We believe all undocumented children should have access to regularisation in order for Ireland to meet its international commitments. Our proposal is the minimum the State should do to address this today. If the committee wants to go further, please do so.
To ensure this does not happen again, we must examine our immigration legislation and pass immigration legislation that is comprehensive and flexible and have labour migration policies that are responsive to it. There are other key issues. Other European countries have mechanisms which mean children born here may acquire residency at a certain age. This is to be discussed in a much larger space.
Ms Kate O'Connell:
I refer to access to services and the structural and perceived barriers to young people who need particular services. Often, families and young people are very fearful of coming forward even if those services, such as mental health, health or youth services, are available. Even within schools, young people who should feel they can go to adults, principals or year tutors have this issue that prevents them from making meaningful relationships with significant adults in their lives. While there are structural barriers that are very important, the all-encompassing fear of detection and a sense of having to protect the family is another barrier that may be difficult to quantify but is pervasive in young people's lives.
Ms Edel McGinley:
We would like a regularisation, particularly for children and families but for all undocumented people in the State. We would like the committee to give such a recommendation to the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, and to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Katherine Zappone. The Minister, Deputy Katherine Zappone was a member of the sub-committee on human rights which recommended the introduction of regularisation. She is very well aware of the issue. As Mr. Rojas Coppari said, if the committee would like to go further that this, please feel free to do so.
There is an urgency to it. There are young people in the Visitors Gallery who are in their leaving certificate year and whose futures are stifled and blocked. We must act now. We would like the committee to show its commitment to undocumented children and young people by making a recommendation and sending a report to both Ministers on the issue. It would be very concrete, we would very much welcome it and it would help the children and young people in this situation.
Issuing deportation orders to over 2,000 people each year and not implementing them but turning a blind eye and letting it roll is probably "an Irish solution to an Irish problem". It is why we are where we are today. I thank the witnesses for their time. It was very informative. I speak on behalf of all members. We appreciate the engagement. It was an eye-opener for all of us and the committee will not be found wanting to exercise the influence we have with the system to try to move towards a more sustainable future for the immigration issue. I also thank the members.