by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: lienyuan lee/WikiCommons/CC BY 3.0

A SEVENTEEN-YEAR-OLD high schooler was attacked by plainclothes Taiwanese police officers in Changhua earlier this month after being mistaken for an undocumented, “runaway” migrant worker. In particular, the student may have been a victim of racial profiling by police, seeing as he is half-Vietnamese. After the incident, the student required seventeen stitches and also suffered bruises on other parts of his body.

Plainclothes police were filmed on security cameras jumping out of a car, suspecting that the teenager could be an undocumented migrant worker. The student was dressed in work clothes and was on his way to a part-time job on the farm of a relative while riding a bicycle. Police pinned the boy and grabbed his neck in the process of apprehending him, though the teenager’s head injuries were from colliding with a tractor while fleeing from the police.

The teenager stated that the police did not identify themselves and, as they were dressed in plainclothes, he thought that he was being kidnapped. Security camera footage shows that police only produced their badges after the boy was subdued.

For their part, police claimed to have identified themselves before tackling the boy. Sihu Precinct deputy chief Shih Kun-shan asserted in public comments that police had behaved according to procedure and that they were responding to that the boy was riding his bicycle strangely while talking on the phone. The police were from the Puyan Police Precinct, which is located in Puyan Township. The incident took place in Haosiu Village of Puyan Township on Fanjin Road. Police realized they had captured the wrong person because the teenager responded in fluent Mandarin, demanding to know why he was being attacked, and who they were.

Photo credit: Chi-Hung Lin/WikiCommons/CC BY-SA 3.0

After the incident, the three police officers visited the boy’s home to apologize, and stated that they will compensate him for medical expenses. The teenager in question was raised by his Vietnamese mother, who is divorced from his Taiwanese father, and ironically, hoped to become a police officer as an adult. Changhua county councilor Chang Tsun-yang, an independent, has taken up the case as an advocate of the teenager, while the Changhua County Police Bureau reprimanded the responsible officer during the arrest, the chief of the Puyan Police Precinct, for his actions.

This would not be the only incident in recent memory in which police were quick to use violence against an individual that they suspected of being an undocumented migrant worker. Another incident that led to significant public outrage occurred in April 2021, when a female music teacher surnamed Chan, was tackled to the ground and arrested by police on suspicion of being an undocumented migrant worker. Chan refused to produce identification when questioned by police and commented that the line of questioning was “stupid”, which led the officer to arrest her on charges of obstructing justice.

Otherwise, there have been cases in which migrant workers that are not undocumented were detained by police on such suspicions. One case in August 2021 involved a migrant worker who was arrested by police for not having identification on her because she had stepped out to dispose of the trash, with her legs and feet cuffed. When she was released, this was on the side of the road, and she was left to find her way home without her cell phone, and little knowledge of her whereabouts.

To this extent, police have at times been quick to resort to violence against individuals they suspect of being undocumented migrant workers. One example involved the shooting death of undocumented Vietnamese worker Nguyen Quoc Phi, who was shot nine times by police and left to bleed out. Police claimed that Nguyen was attempting to steal a car and attacked them with rocks, but questions were raised about that Nguyen did not know how to drive, and that being attacked with rocks hardly merits immediately responding with lethal and deadly force. Nguyen’s shooting death was recently the subject of an award-winning documentary, And Miles to Go Before I Sleep.

All this points to a broader pattern of wrongdoing by Taiwanese police when it comes to individuals they suspect of being migrant workers. That a half-Vietnamese student was targeted by police proves ironic, as because of the influx of Southeast Asian immigration, the government has sought to tout how one in ten elementary and middle school children have a foreign parent as a sign of Taiwan’s growing cultural diversity. Nevertheless, this has not prevented such individuals from potentially being racially profiled by police.

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