27 Jun 2024

Family fighting to keep aunt in New Zealand as Immigration tells her to go

8:53 am on 27 June 2024

An Auckland family is heartbroken two beloved members of the family are being told to leave the country by Immigration NZ.

Loasi Latu and her husband have lived in New Zealand for decades and have been told they have until Friday to leave the country voluntarily.

It was complicated by the fact Latu is a carer for her brother Viliami, who is a New Zealand resident and needs 24/7 support.

Latu has helped to raise many members of her wider family. On top of that, she is now the full-time carer for Viliami due to his intellectual disability and epilepsy.

An older woman with a man wearing a red cardigan.

Loasi Latu and her brother Viliami. Photo: RNZ/Marika Khabazi

Latu said she was scared about being sent back to Tonga after more than 20 years in New Zealand.

"I feel heartbroken. New Zealand is my home. I'm scared. I don't want to leave my brother. I am the one who understands him and the one he listens to. All my family is here and my grandkids."

Family spokesperson Karina Kaufusi, who lives with Latu, said it has been a difficult time for the family and they were approaching RNZ and going public with their story as a last resort.

"My family is heartbroken and we have psychological reports from specialists talking about the psychological impacts it will have not only to my uncle Pila, but actually to three generations.

"My siblings and I, we've got really good jobs, we contribute to the economy significantly. She looks after my nieces. So they get to keep their nana. If she stays and they will be psychologically impacted if she is no longer here to care for them. So we're absolutely devastated by this."

The couple are technically overstayers, more than 20 years past the student visas they originally travelled to New Zealand on.

But they say they started the process of applying for residency before their visas expired, but were taken advantage of by their immigration advisor, who took their money but did not apply for residency.

They believe if they had been better represented, they would have been given residency years ago.

They applied for a special direction for permanent residency from the minister in 2023, but this was declined.

Since then, they have gathered further evidence for a new application with Associate Minister Chris Penk, but Immigration New Zealand said the couple must leave New Zealand even though that process is underway.

"They've told my aunt and uncle that they need to voluntarily leave this country by Friday. So all we're asking is to let the process run through, let the minister review this new compelling evidence that we have gathered."

That new information includes reports about how Latu's brother, who is nearly 70 and lives with an intellectual disability and epilepsy, would be adversely affected if she were to leave the country.

The family calls him Pila and said Latu caring for him means he is not straining the public system by requiring full-time care.

But if she cannot do it then the options are put Pila into care, send him to Tonga, or keep him in the family, which could mean a lot of change for Kaufusi.

"The first option would be to put him in an already stretched public healthcare system that will cost New Zealand millions and millions of dollars because he needs 24/7 supervision and care. That option, for us, it's not culturally appropriate.

"We're a Tongan family and in our Tongan culture, we don't give our vulnerable, we don't give our elderly people to strangers to take care of them. The family takes care of them and so the second option, being the youngest of the family, being single, being a woman, my Tongan, an obligation and duty to my family is to sacrifice the career that I have.

"I'm a young, brown, female senior structural engineer. The engineering industry needs more females, it needs more pacific people in it, and I would be sacrificing and giving that up so that I can look after my uncle Pila to provide the 24/7 supervision that he needs.

"The third option is to send him back to Tonga .... He deserves a quality life here. Tonga doesn't have the resources to look after my uncle."

They said they believe sending Latu to Tonga would have humanitarian and economic impacts, through increased cost on the taxpayer to care for Pila, and a lower quality of life for him.

RNZ asked Immigration if it had considered the wider consequences if the couple were to leave NZ, and why it could not wait to hear the response for the second application for special direction.

It did not respond directly to RNZ's questions.

In a statement, national compliance manager Stephanie Greathead said Latu and her husband have been in the country unlawfully since 2004 and are liable for deportation.

She said they have no further right to appeal, and she encouraged them to leave voluntarily.

The family's latest request for a special direction is with Penk.

A spokesperson said: "Minister Penk is unable to comment on specific cases due to privacy reasons. Requests for ministerial intervention are prepared by Immigrations officials before being considered by the minister in accordance with the Immigration Act."

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