Theresa May, the home secretary, has been criticised for misrepresenting the Human Rights Act in her speech to the Conservative Party conference.  She said:

We all know the stories about the Human Rights Act. The violent drug dealer who cannot be sent home because his daughter – for whom he pays no maintenance – lives here. The robber who cannot be removed because he has a girlfriend. The illegal immigrant who cannot be deported because – and I am not making this up – he had pet a cat.

Hundreds of tweets initiated a prolific thread of comments on May’s statement within minutes and the judgment that the home secretary was disparagingly referring to was retrieved and widely available on the web not long after the minister’s comment  (thanks to Dominic Casciani, BBC News Home Affair correspondent).  

However May’s unfortunate statement is not an isolated episode. Attacks on the HRA have become more frequent over the last months. A campaign for the withdrawal of the HRA led by the Daily Mail has the explicit backing of many members of the Conservative Party.

The caricatured representation of the HRA in May’s speech has accompanied by a series of crowd-pleasing policy proposals on immigration. Terms like deportation, detention, removal, abuses, forged documents, bogus colleges were repeated numerous times May and colleagues. The politics of insecurity is constructed words by word inexorably.

One proposal in particular seems to encapsulate the essence of current immigration politics which combines populism and poor evidence-based policies (see another example here).  Theresa May & co. far too easily blame undocumented migrants for exploiting the Art. 8 of the Human Rights Act to avoid deportation, and have pledged to solve the ‘problem’ by sending back ‘illegal migrants’ who set up a family to abuse the system. Unfortunately, they seem to have forgotten that most ‘illegal immigrants’ become irregular in the UK rather than entering ‘illegally’. This means that they are likely to have established a family in the UK when they were still regularly residents. It is thus unfair and wrong to assume, as often ministers seem to do, that their desire to have a family is a pretext to take advantage of the UK’s generosity. Pragmatically, this also means that the proposal won’t solve the problem, as those who have babies while they are undocumented may be fewer than the ministers think.