Author: Paul Blanchard
In 2010, he promised that net immigration would be capped at ‘tens of thousands’. It was controversial, but it was also impossible. Civil servants told him so: in 2012 they warned him ‘explicitly and directly’ that there was no way the government could meet its flagship pledge. But Cameron remained bullish on the subject, and his determination to make it work was shared by Theresa May.
As head of the Home Office, she made it her goal to meet the target by any means necessary. She enacted the infamous ‘hostile environment’ policy in the hope that illegal immigrants would ‘self-deport’. She put ‘immense pressure’ on Kingsley Manning, the head of NHS Digital, to share patient data and track down immigration offenders. She tried to restrict student visas and even tried to put the children of illegal immigrants at the bottom of lists of school places. The clampdown on spousal visas meant some children were left living without one of their parents. Landlords reportedly refused to rent to people with foreign accents or names out of fear of getting the paperwork wrong. Crime against undocumented people went under-reported due to fear of arrest. All her policies were fuelled by aggressive government rhetoric. ‘When we find you, and we will find you, we’ll make sure you are sent back to the country you came from,’ David Cameron said.
In 2018, those policies are still being felt. Many members of the Windrush generation, who came to the country between the 1940s and 1970s, were issued letters from the Home Office informing them they were ‘liable to be detained’ because they were ‘person[s] without leave’. Their citizenship was difficult to prove because the Home Office failed to keep a record of those granted indefinite leave to remain. Labour MP David Lammy said it was ‘inhumane and cruel for so many of that Windrush generation to have suffered so long in this condition.’
Last week, footage emerged of a dawn immigration enforcement operation by six officers. Zixuan Qu and her fiancé, Duncan Watkinson, had their home raided at 5.30am. The officers told Qu, who came to the UK after winning a scholarship to study health and social care in London, she had ‘no leave to remain in the UK’ and that she was an ‘immigration offender.’ It took the officers almost half an hour to realise an error had been made.
This week, the Home Office told Inga Lockington, a Danish-born Lib Dem councillor and former mayor of Ipswich that it ‘cannot be satisfied’ she is permanently resident. Inga, whose application cost £1,000 to submit, has lived in the UK since 1979 and been a councillor for 19 years. She said her rejection was on the basis of failing to have a permanent residency card, despite never having been told she needed it. She told the Guardian she didn’t want special treatment because of her public service. ’I just want to be treated fairly,’ she said. Leave legal definitions at the door and ask: What is a citizen? Is it not obvious that a tax-paying, English-speaking public servant, married to a British man, who has lived and worked in the United Kingdom for nearly 40 years, is a citizen? If so, why are we denying citizenship to our citizens?
It’s easy to blame our national failures on Brexit. But the way we are treating legal immigrants in Britain today has nothing to do with leaving the EU and everything to do with the Coalition’s draconian policies. And though errors can be corrected, not much can be done to heal the pain that undoubtedly comes from being rejected by the place you call home.