Immigration laws impossible to understand

Even lawyers would rather not deal with the mess that is Danish immigration law

Years of adjusting the nation's immigration regulations have rendered them impossible to understand and possibly in violation of basic human rights.

According to Jens Vedsted-Hansen, a law professor at Aarhus University, the current immigration statutes are opaque and perhaps illegal.

“The problem lies in the practical application,” Vedsted-Hansen told Politiken newspaper. “Decisions on asylum, family reunification and EU residence are often right on the edge of Denmark's international obligations and in some cases probably incompatible with international laws.”

The 30-year-old Alien Act has been amended no less than 64 times between 2002 and 2012 and is now so complex that both laymen and legal experts alike find it difficult to navigate.

Last year, for example, a majority in parliament voted to allow the deportation of immigrants who have performed religious forced marriages. The year before, it was decided to make it easier to kick out foreigners convicted of stealing. In 2009, the rules were extended to deport those convicted of crimes involving weapons and explosives. The list of changes and amendments goes on and on.

The piecemeal changes have made immigration laws a complicated patchwork of rules and exceptions to the rules, says Vedsted-Hansen.

"It would probably be a good idea to do a thorough assessment of the structure, content and regulatory aspects of the nation's immigration laws and revise the legal framework accordingly,” he said.

A lawyer specialising in immigration law, Bjørn Dilou Jacobsen, agreed that current immigration laws are simply too complex.

"They are as dense as the most complicated tax codes,” Jacobsen told Berlingske newspaper. “It is vital that citizens be able to understand their rights and responsibilities when it comes to living here with their family.”

Jacobsen said that even lawyers cannot wade through the swamp that is current immigration law and are often loath to take on immigration as a specialty.

“In light of all of the problems, a rewrite of the laws from the bottom up, rather than bit by bit, may be a good idea,” he said. “For a lawyer, it is extremely hard to see some of the provisions of the law when they reach the level of section Nine, subsections 32, 33, 34, A, B, C, and so on.”

A majority of the nation’s political parties believe that the statutes are in need of an overhaul, but the government disagrees.

"The laws are incoherent and unclear and regulations that cannot be understood have no place in a society based upon laws,” Liberal Alliance spokesperson Mette Bock told Politiken.

Far-left party Enhedslisten (EL) and the anti-immigration right-wing party Dansk Folkeparti (DF) make for uneasy bedfellows, but both agree that the laws need an overhaul.

“Immigration laws are a mish-mash and lawyers tell me that they are impossible to navigate,” EL spokesperson Pernille Skipper told Berlingske.

DF's Dennis Flydtkjær, a member of parliament’s legal committee, said that the recent case of a Somali man convicted of raping a ten-year-old girl made it clear that the laws were inconsistent. The district court involved in the case said that the rapist should be deported, but the nation’s high court overturned the verdict.

“When interpretation of the laws differs this much, it is obvious that the laws are unclear and must be revised,” Flydtkjær told Berlingske.

The justice minister, Morten Bødskov (Socialdemokraterne), said that immigration laws are just fine as they are.

"The government does not intend to rewrite the immigration laws,” Bødskov told Berlingske. “I believe that the laws are clear, especially if one has a legal background. Any decision can be appealed, so individual rights are protected.”