20131215 EDITORIAL: The long fight against discrimination
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EDITORIAL: The long fight against discrimination

A 37-year-old Vietnamese woman whose marriage to a Taiwanese man recently ended has filed for administrative litigation against the Ministry of the Interior’s decision to revoke her Republic of China (ROC) citizenship in March because she had engaged in an extramarital affair with a Vietnamese worker in Taiwan.

The woman decided to marry the Vietnamese man and visited a local household registration office in March to register their marriage. However, the ministry stripped her of her ROC citizenship by citing Article 19 of the Nationality Act (國籍法) and claiming that her affair showed she did not have “good morals” — a requirement to obtain citizenship. The ministry also suspected that her previous marriage had been a scheme to obtain citizenship.

Having given up her Vietnamese citizenship, the woman became stateless after living in Taiwan for eight years. In desperation, she began a legal battle against the government to retain her citizenship, insisting that her ex-husband did not sue her over the affair and that she has no criminal record.

She even made an argument against Minister of the Interior Lee Hong-yuan (李鴻源) over his previous extramarital affair with Non-Partisan Solidarity Union Legislator May Chin (高金素梅).

“The whole nation knows about Lee’s extramarital affair. If I don’t have good morals, neither does he,” she said.

Under the law, foreigners who obtain ROC citizenship can be stripped of their status if they engage in criminal activity or fail to demonstrate good morals over the following five years.

There are over 150,000 foreign spouses living in Taiwan, and more than 52,000 do not have ROC citizenship.

As the law requires foreigners to forsake their original citizenship to obtain ROC citizenship, people like Wu are left in civil limbo, and since they have to meet difficult requirements, such as having at least NT$5 million (US$170,000) in savings, the road back to naturalization is not easy.

The ministry’s move shows that foreign spouses continue to be targets of discrimination, and such disregard for human rights is ironic in a country that has signed two UN human rights covenants.

While President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration touts its efforts to improve human rights, the current law still treats foreign spouses and foreign workers as potential threats to social order, allowing the authorities to revoke their nationality based on a vague and abstract requirement of “good morals,” while putting up unnecessary hurdles for them to become an ROC citizen.

Immigrant-rights advocates have voiced opposition to the law and pushed for amendments to scrap regulations that require foreigners to behave “properly” in order to maintain their ROC citizenship. The proposed amendments also called for the cancelation of regulations that ask foreign spouses to meet minimum financial requirements when applying for naturalization.

The proposed amendments passed a preliminary review in the legislature in April, and Lee has given his support. However, the amendment to the law has yet to be completed.

As a country that often takes pride in the values of freedom and democracy, Taiwan clearly has a long way to go before discrimination is eliminated and human rights are respected.

It takes persistent efforts to improve human rights, and the authorities should take proactive measures to protect the rights of immigrants with more mature immigration policies and laws, so that society can become inclusive and truly embrace diversity.

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