Sue Mackay is a Labor Senator for Tasmania. She tells the story of refugee girl Ruth Cruz.
"A refugee schoolgirl wept today as she made an impassioned plea to Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock to allow her to stay in Australia."
"Ruth Cruz, a popular year 11 student at St Mary's Catholic girls' school in Hobart, is facing deportation to her native El Salvador on July 29."
"Arriving in Tasmania on a visitor's visa in December 2000, the 17-year-old has twice been refused a protection visa by federal immigration authorities."
This page centres around an Adjournment Speech by Tasmanian Senator Sue MacKay. She spoke when young Ruth Cruz faced imminent deportation by Australian Immigration bureaucrats.
We've added some news items below the speech to provide some background to the case of Ruth.
Click on the quick links below to jump to the sections on this page:
UPDATE 2009: Senator Sue Mackay's parliamentary contacts have been deleted. She is no longer a Senator in the Federal Government.
Tuesday, 28 October 2003
Senator Sue Mackay
Senate Opposition Whip
Labor Senator for Tasmania
Senator MACKAY (Tasmania) (7.20 p.m.) -I rise tonight to speak on an issue that is of huge importance to my home state of Tasmania, an issue that has galvanised members of the community from all walks of life. The matter that I want to bring before the Senate tonight is the plight of a young Tasmanian woman, Ruth Cruz. It is not strictly true to call Ruth a Tasmanian because, to date, she has not been officially granted that status. Officially she has not been, but certainly unofficially, by the people of Tasmania, she has.
Ruth was born in El Salvador. Her father left the family when Ruth was three and her mother died of cancer when Ruth was four. Following the death of her mother, Ruth was brought up by her grandmother and her older sister, until her older sister married and came to live in Tasmania with her husband, a political refugee. At the age of 14 Ruth was kidnapped by one of the many gangs that operate in El Salvador. Gang violence is unfortunately common in El Salvador and is used to coerce victims into being drug runners. Ruth witnessed the murder of a friend before managing to escape and go into hiding. Ruth arrived in Tasmania on a visitors visa in late 2000 to be with her sister, Daysi Escobar. When she arrived in Tasmania she was physically and emotionally exhausted. She was socially withdrawn and fearful. According to her sister Daysi:
... she was malnourished, but so used to hunger that she hardly ate. A check up with the family doctor revealed that she was physically weak, anaemic and suffering from a stress-related asthma. An x-ray revealed that she had cracked ribs.
From her position of safety in Tasmania, Ruth then applied for a protection visa on the grounds that she was at risk of gang violence was she to return to El Salvador. This application was refused, as was a subsequent appeal to the Refugee Review Tribunal. Ruth has been able to stay in Tasmania by virtue of a series of bridging visas whilst awaiting the outcome of her various applications to stay on a more permanent basis.
Having failed to secure permanent residency, Ruth had one avenue left open to her: she had to rely on a man who, in his own words, was 'the most interventionist immigration minister ever'-Mr Philip Ruddock. Unfortunately for Ruth, she is not a friend of the former immigration minister, nor does she have sufficient funds to make a substantial donation to the Liberal Party. She had to rely, then, on Minister Ruddock's compassion. What she got, on his last day in the job as immigration minister, was the decision that she would not be granted a visa. He signed the letter to reject her application on his last day in the job-6 October. Yet, extraordinarily, it took 11 days before the Tasmanian director of the immigration department gave the letter to Ruth's lawyer. The letter was handed to the lawyer at 5 p.m. on Friday, 17 October and gave Ruth 28 days to leave Australia.
I think the timing on this was a cynical act to try and reduce the fallout from this callous decision. It is commonly accepted now amongst the medical community, and I believe a protocol of BreastScreen Tasmania-a relevant agency to cite, given yesterday was Pink Ribbon Day-that, wherever possible, bad news not be given to patients on a Friday. This is in recognition of the powerlessness of the position in which it places the person getting the news, with little access to support or the ability to take action on the news they have been given until the Monday following.
Now whereas those in the caring professions deliberately avoid trying to place people in this powerless, vulnerable position, it seems in the case of the immigration department and the new minister, Minister Vanstone, that this act must have been deliberately taken to induce that very feeling of powerlessness. However, the new minister and her department underestimated the people of Tasmania and the support and compassion they are prepared to extend-even at weekends. The Mercury newspaper carried the story on the front page of its Saturday edition. There was a page 3 story the next day in the Sunday Tasmanian and by Monday a new community group had been formed known as 'Friends of Ruth'. It emerged that one of the reasons for Ruth's applications being rejected was that, as a minor, the issue of who had legal custody of Ruth had been unclear. However, on 15 May 2001, Ruth's father signed a statement saying he wanted her to stay in Tasmania in the care of her sister. Ruth's father Carlos wrote:
I confirm that there is a great deal of violence in this country - this is from El Salvador - and especially the place where I live from gangs who attack young people and force them to join the gangs. My daughter has been threatened and it is likely that her life would be in danger if she returned.
However, despite this statement being referred to at the Refugee Review Tribunal, the department could not find the document and had been unsuccessfully trying to contact Ruth's father to resolve the custody issue. Despite the department's inability to track down Carlos Cruz, a local El Salvadorian journalist, Adriana Valle, working on information provided by the Mercury newspaper, managed to find him. The story confirming Mr Cruz' desire for Ruth to remain in Australia for her safety was published in the Mercury on 24 October. Amazingly, the original documents signed by Mr Cruz were also found that day.
As I said before, the compassion Ruth's story has raised in Tasmania cuts across all religious, political, ethnic, age and other groupings. Friends of Ruth comprises politicians from across the political spectrum, including the Tasmanian Premier, Jim Bacon, Anglican and Catholic Bishops, representatives from Ruth's school, community organisations such as Anglicare Tasmania and Tasmanians for Refugees, and the Lord Mayor of Hobart. This group today launched a petition calling on the new minister to review the decision to deny Ruth Cruz a visa, with Friends of Ruth spokesperson Jo Flanagan saying:
The petition asks that the Minister allow Ruth to stay with her family, those people who provide care for her. As a child, we believe she has the right to remain with those adults who will care for her and protect her.
Last night, the Hobart City Council carried a motion calling on the minister to grant Ruth a permanent visa. As a Labor senator, it is not within my power to resolve this issue. It is not in Senator Brown's power, either, although I do note that he was quoted in our local paper as saying he was going to introduce an urgency bill in relation to this-a bill that we have not seen and, if he did in fact introduce it, I suspect it would be blocked by the government. It is not in the power of the Independent Tasmanian senators either. However, it is within the power of the Liberal senators for Tasmania to use whatever influence they have with their colleague Senator Vanstone and ask her to overturn Mr Ruddock's decision. I understand from speaking to people in Hobart today that there is an expectation that there is some short-term comfort for Ruth in that she may be granted another bridging visa to take her through to the end of January. But what Ruth wants, what her sister wants and what Ruth's father wants is for Ruth to be allowed to stay permanently in Tasmania. That is what the people of Tasmania want as well.
Ruth is not far off completing year 11. She wants to continue to year 12. She is an active member of the community, plays senior soccer and has many friends. I have no real ability to understand how Ruth Cruz must feel. I did not lose my father at three and my mother at four. I have not been subjected to gang violence or kidnap. I am secure in the knowledge that I have a permanent home in the beautiful and safe state of Tasmania. From my position of privilege it is hard to place myself-as it would be for everybody in this chamber-in her shoes. But I can place myself there enough to know that we have a responsibility to vulnerable young people to allow them to develop in a climate free from fear and uncertainty and that we cannot send a vulnerable young woman back to an unstable country where she will have no support-to do so would be unethical and inhumane. We owe it to Ruth and other young people in her position to welcome her to our country and provide her with a safe and secure environment. Minister Vanstone has been accused in the past of lacking compassion. I hope in this case she will prove her accusers wrong and use her discretion to allow this young woman to stay permanently in Tasmania.
Sydney Morning Herald
July 11 2003
A refugee schoolgirl wept today as she made an impassioned plea to Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock to allow her to stay in Australia.
Ruth Cruz, a popular year 11 student at St Mary's Catholic girls' school in Hobart, is facing deportation to her native El Salvador on July 29.
Arriving in Tasmania on a visitor's visa in December 2000, the 17-year-old has twice been refused a protection visa by federal immigration authorities.
She fled her homeland as a 14-year-old after earlier being kidnapped by a gang trying to force her to become a drug runner.
"I have been trying for a long time to stay in Australia," she told reporters today, her eyes filled with tears.
"I would like to say to him (Mr Ruddock), 'please let me stay' ..."
Ruth's mother died when she was four and she was raised by her grandmother and older sister.
Her sister has since come to live in Tasmania with her husband, who is a political refugee and has a permanent visa.
St Mary's principal, Joanne Atkins, said the school had hired an immigration lawyer in an effort to avert Ruth's deportation.
She said a direct appeal to Mr Ruddock was Ruth's last chance, with a letter due to arrive in the minister's office next week.
"We are appealing on humanitarian grounds," Mrs Atkins said today.
"Ruth is just such a great member of this community, she has done so much for us.
"She has come a long, long way since she arrived from El Salvador.
"When Ruth first came she could speak very little English, she didn't even want to leave her room.
"What we are hoping is, of course, that the minister will read our letter fairly compassionately and consider all the circumstances about Ruth's life.
"We are praying and hoping that by following the due process and doing everything correctly that Ruth will be able to stay with us.
"She has a great future here, a very bright future in Tasmania ..."
Mid-way through exams and an avid soccer player, Ruth said she just wanted to stay with her family and friends.
Her plight has also attracted the support of Tasmanian Premier Jim Bacon, who has pledged to personally take her case to Mr Ruddock.
"It is inconceivable that a child who has found happiness after escaping a situation of trauma and great horror now faces being deported," Mr Bacon said in a statement.
"I can't believe that Australia is saying we have no place for her and that she has to go back.
"I will be writing to Mr Ruddock and will be speaking with him personally early next week to tell him there are many thousands of Tasmanians shocked and horrified at this proposal ..."
A spokesman for Mr Ruddock, who is due to arrive in Hobart this afternoon for the national NAIDOC awards, said Ruth had been found not to be a refugee.
He said he was aware she and her supporters intended to appeal directly to the minister.
"If they do, he will look at the case on its merits," the spokesman said.
SBS World News
Updated 22 August 2013
The immigration minister, Senator Amanda Vanstone, is expected to announce shortly the fate of a Tasmanian schoolgirl facing deportation to El Salvador.
Ruth Cruz Mendosa, a 17-year-old student, has asked Senator Vanstone to review the case and issue a permanent visa on humanitarian grounds.
The girl has been living in Tasmania for the past three years after escaping the gang violence that is rife in her Central American homeland.
The previous immigration minister, Philip Ruddock, rejected her plea last month on his final day in the role.
Senator Vanstone's decision is expected to be announced by the end of the week.
Last updated October 18, 2003 07:47:00
A 17-year old Hobart student will almost certainly to be deported back to El Salvador within 28 days.
The migration agent for Ruth Cruz from St Mary's College, who was seeking to remain in Tasmania, has described the latest developments in the matter as callous.
The agent, Eugene Alexander, was informed last night that the previous immigration minister Philip Ruddock declined to intervene in her case.
"The minister has chosen not to issue a visa to Ruth, and therefore she has 28 days to leave Australia as from today, which makes it about the middle of November," he said.
"She's been a model student and she's endured severe hardships back in El Salvador, which are the equivalent of severe humanitarian issues, the fact that the minister has chosen not to intervene speaks words about the level of compassion in this Government," he said.
A statement from Mr Ruddock's successor, Amanda Vanstone says discussions will be held between department officials and Mr Alexander so that Ms Cruz may stay in Australia to complete her year 11 studies.
Mr Alexander says Ms Cruz had substantial community backing, including from the Tasmania's Premier.
"We have to look at other options because the law says that she cannot remain in Australia and make another application while she's here," Mr Alexander said.
"There are some other options, I need to discuss that with Ruth and her sister Daisy, whom she's staying with in Tasmania, and after that they'll make some decisions."
Posted October 20, 2003 20:21:00
The lawyer representing a Tasmanian girl threatened with deportation has released a statement contradicting Federal Government claims her father wants her back.
The Government claims Ruth Cruz's father had not given his daughter permission to remain in Hobart beyond a short holiday.
Ms Cruz, 17, says she moved to Tasmania from El Salvador three years ago to live with her sister to escape a drug gang which kidnapped her.
Tonight, lawyer Eugene Alexander released a translation of a sworn statement by her father Carlos Humberto Cruz in May 2001.
In the statement, Mr Cruz said his daughter had been threatened and it was likely her life would be in danger if she returned.
Mr Cruz said he would like Ruth to remain with her sister in Hobart.
The Immigration Minister has indicated Ms Cruz may be able to complete her year 11 studies in Australia.
But the minister maintains that custody and living arrangements which she says are central to the case, must be resolved.
At a meeting in Hobart today, supporters of the 17-year-old questioned claims that Ms Cruz's father is her legal guardian.
The principal of St Mary's College, Joanne Atkins, says Ms Cruz's sister has had power of attorney since shortly after she arrived in the state.
"There has been no communication from the Department of Immigration about this issue, the Refugee Review Tribunal accepted that Ruth's sister has power of attorney."
But a statement released by the Immigration Minister, Amanda Vanstone, indicates that while Ms Cruz's father gave permission for his daughter to visit Australia in the year 2000, there was no permission for her to remain in the country.
The statement also says Ms Cruz's sister has not provided any evidence to prove she has custody.
Further talks will be held to try to ensure Ms Cruz can complete her year 11 studies in Australia.
Posted October 21, 2003 07:00:00
The sister of a girl in Tasmania who is facing deportation has released a statement detailing the hardships and horrors experienced by her younger sibling in El Salvador.
The Federal Government claims 17-year-old Ruth Cruz Mendoza's father is her legal guardian and wants her back.
However, Miss Mendoza's lawyer, Eugene Alexander, has released a translation of a sworn statement from Carlos Humberto Cruz saying his daughter's life would be in danger if she returned.
In her statement, Daysi Escobar says when her sister arrived in 2000, she slept day and night and refused to leave her room.
Ms Escobar says a medical check up revealed she was anaemic, suffered from stress related asthma and had cracked ribs.
Last updated October 23, 2003 07:43:00
A group formed to support a girl living in Hobart and is facing deportation to her native El Salvador, is hopeful Immigration Minister Senator Amanda Vanstone will review the case.
The Federal Government claims 17-year-old Ruth Cruz's father is her legal guardian and wants her back, despite her lawyer releasing a copy of a sworn statement from Mr Cruz in 2001 saying his daughter's life would be in danger if she returned
Yesterday, Senator Vanstone announced the St Mary's College Student would be given a three-month bridging visa enabling her to finish her Year 11 studies.
A spokeswoman for the newly formed group "Friends of Ruth", Jo Flanagan, says the group is hopeful of a review.
"The Minister clearly wasn't informed about Ruth's custody status, this question about whether her father is actually has custody of her just demonstrates the Minister didn't see some documentation which states he handed over custody to her sister, so there's an opening there to perhaps ask for a review of the case," Ms Flanagan said.
A former Tasmanian teaching English in El Salvador says Ruth Cruz faces dangers to her safety if forced to return.
Paul Leaman says the story of Miss Cruz's imminent deportation is attracting press coverage in the country.
"According to the reports she fled El Salvador to avoid the requirements the gangs," Mr Leaman said.
"Whichever gang was putting upon her to come back - now assuming she goes into a similar community or the same community she's be readily identified for a start."