Sunday, 27 July 2008

At home he's a tourist

This story in the Mail on Sunday is interesting, because I actually had a meeting with the Immigration Minister, Liam Byrne, on the same topic last Tuesday. Also because it reflects the media's typically inconsistent approach towards immigration.

It's about a man who has lived in this country for 50 years, since he was three years old; has served in Northern Ireland as a Marine; has British parents; was a councillor, a policeman, a fireman and is now a nurse - but he's Canadian. Technically he's been here illegally and has been working illegally, although there's a rule that says if you've been here for 14 years illegally (and behaved yourself) you can apply for leave to remain and, eventually, citizenship. So he's not being kicked out, he can regularise his situation - but he has to pay £750 to do so and take the "Way of Life" citizenship test.

I've got a few cases like this at the moment. Typically they involve people from Jamaica, who came here on tourist visas decades ago and overstayed, or the children of such people (unlike in the USA, just being born in the UK doesn't automatically make you a British citizen). I've got one young woman who was born here, and is about to go to university to do an English language degree. It was only then that she discovered she wasn't a British citizen. She's got to pay two sets of fees, (levied on the basis that the process should be self-funding), adding up to over £1300, and take the test. So I raised this with Liam and he's going to see what can be done about it. Would be pretty stupid to put someone through an English language test when they're about to go off and get a degree in the subject!

More and more of these cases are coming to light as we're tightening up our border controls and immigration checks. (At which point I have to say to the PM - please don't promote Liam in the reshuffle, he's doing a phenomenal job at Immigration and we need him to stay there! But don't tell Liam I said that).

I'm seeing changes on a week by week basis - much quicker processing of applications, and definitely more deportations. For example, I'm noticing a number of cases where women are coming to see me with their young children; their partners are in jail, usually for drugs or violent offences, and are going to be deported at the end of their sentence because they're foreign nationals. This is difficult. It means the father will be separated from his child and partner. But on the other hand.... I hate the over-used phrase 'abused our hospitality', but I think most people would be of the view that we shouldn't be giving sympathetic treatment to drug-dealers, rapists and gangsters. And yet... shouldn't the child's need for a father be our priority? But then the mother and child could move abroad too (although they usually don't want to). And would he make much of a father anyway? Tricky decisions but the starting point is that if they've done the crime, they're out of here.

Anyway, the point I was making is that I'm seeing more of these cases because we've got our act together on foreign national prisoners. I'm also seeing more deportations of failed asylum seekers, some of which involve families with young kids, which again can be really difficult.

My last point though is about the way the media treat such cases. On the one hand the Mail on Sunday would be up in arms at any softening of immigration laws, and probably wouldn't have much sympathy for my Jamaican overstayers, even though some of them have been here 50 years too and have worked all their lives; they tend to be caretakers, porters, cleaners, not former Marines. But shouldn't the law apply equally to everyone? (Apart from those who really have 'abused our hospitality').


Pat Nurse said...

I must say that I had to jump through hoops to get a passport because I was born in Cyprus.

I felt hugely offended because all of my siblings were born in England except for me. I was only born on British soil abroad because my English dad was serving his country through the RAF who sent him there when my Italian mum was pregnant with me.

For a short time, I thought I'd have to argue my own case to be able to stay in this country when I'd never known any other - but thankfully after having to search and find several documents to prove my nationality through my parents and grandparents line, I was finally given my passport --- and that was before the hysteria about immigration.

I'd also like to comment on whether kids need fathers especially violent ones who deal drugs.

Kids need a stable and peaceful home with a good role model. It matters not whether that parent is male, female, lesbian, gay. They don't need violence in the home at any cost. There is nothing to gain from having a violent man in the house.

My other point is that I cringe when I hear, without pause, someone writing off a "drug dealer" as a wicked fiend when quite often those who do end up going to prison are at the lower end of the dealing scale. They are often desperate people themselves who have fallen into drug use and often deal to like-minded people as a way of funding their own habit. This prevents them from breaking the law in other ways such as stealing, mugging, committing burglarly or fraud.

I am often dismayed that police claim a "huge victory in the war on drugs" by busting a group of low end dealers as above. Taking these people off the streets and locking them up does absolutely nothing to stop, or even hinder, the supply of illegal drugs.

Those at the top of the scale - the ones who don't touch the stuff but peddle it to greatest advantage and profit - are rarely taken out. Until they are, drug use will always be a problem and it wil get worse.

My own personal view is that all drugs should be legalised and therefore better controlled. Imagine the tax that the Govt could trawl in from this which could then be ploughed back into drug treatment centres.

Wouldn't it honestly make more sense to be able to prescribe an addict something like heroin to prevent them from mugging an old lady?

And young people would be less vulnerable to access such drugs. In the curent illegal situation, there is nothing to stop them.

I'd very much like to hear other people's views on drugs. My own is formed from years as a court reporter watching wretched addicts, in poverty so deep it's almost impossible to imagine, going around the theft, crime, prison, rehab, drugs, theft, crime, prison, etc.. cycle.

Something must be done and it needs a radical approach. Sadly, I fear none of our politicians would be courageous enough to try it.

Kerry said...

Yes, I do think there's a distinction between dealers who deal to support their own habit, and those who arer involved in organised crime, make rather a lot of money out of it and are likely to return to it when they get out of jail (and don't indulge themselves). London MPs - e.g. Harriet Harman in Peckham - see it on a much bigger scale, but it's an issue in Bristol too. They're the people I was talking about in my post.

Pat Nurse said...

The expansion of drugs and associated criminal activity in cities, towns and rural areas across Britain is evidence that the current situation can only get worse.

I don't believe that has anyhting to do with Labour, btw, which did introduce DTTOs and treatment options for convicted drug users.

It just seems to me that prohibition has never worked and still isn't working and it's making victims out of vulnerable people who end up between crime lords and the full force of the law.

We all make choices about what we do but often people don't think too hard before getting involved in something that is as destructive as, particularly, hard drugs.

I would personally like to see NHS money, currently spent on anti-smoking campaigns, to be used to educate young people about how dangerous hard drugs can be both socially and biologically.

My ideal would be legalisation and control through licence. Shopkeepers have to see ID before selling cigarettes or alcohol to a young person. Drug dealers don't care how young the customer is and they don't ask.

I can see many benefits to legalisation as opposed to prohibition, but I fear that no politician would be brave enough to consider it seriously.

I think that as a nation, and as a society, it's time we grew up about drugs, accepted they will always be there, and begin to take a mature approach to solving a very real and growing problem that threatens to destablise communities forever.