Legal status, rights and belonging: International symposia

The analysis of the relationship between legal status, rights and belonging is the central theme of two symposia jointly organised by the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago and the Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS), the Refugee Studies Centre (RSC) and the Oxford Institute of Social Policy (OISP) at the University of Oxford.

The symposia are convened by Dr Roberto G. Gonzales  (University of Chicago) and myself .

Main Themes of the International Symposia

The events will be held respectively in Oxford in April 2013 and in Chicago in October 2013 and will address two interrelated aspects of the relationship between legal status, rights and belonging:

The symposium will investigate the interplay between forms and modes of contemporary membership, migration governance (both immigration and emigration), and the politics of belonging. This will be achieved through in-depth examinations of a range of experiences of membership including, but not limited to, those of:  ethnic minorities; citizen children of undocumented migrant parents; former unaccompanied asylum seeking children; people with dual citizenship; ‘failed’ asylum seekers; and stateless people. Participants are invited to discuss issues such as the position of the non-citizen in contemporary immigration and emigration states; the nexus between human mobility, immigration control, and citizenship; the tension in policy and practice between coexisting traditions and regimes of rights; and the intersection of ‘race’ and other social cleavages and legal status. The Oxford symposium is organised by Dr Nando Sigona (Refugee Studies Centre), Vanessa Hughes (COMPAS) & Dr Elaine Chase (Oxford Institute of Social Policy).

  • Illegality, youth and belonging  (Chicago, October 2013)

This second symposium will explore the confusing and contradictory experiences of belonging and illegality that frame the everyday lives of undocumented immigrant youth. Over the last two decades in the United States, non-citizens have experienced a shrinking of rights while immigrant communities have witnessed an intensification of enforcement efforts in neighbourhoods and public spaces. In effect, these trends have sewn fear and anxiety and narrowed the worlds of youth—such that even mundane acts of driving, waiting for the bus, and traffic stops can lead to the loss of a car, prison and deportation. But these young people have also benefited from local and national efforts to widen access—particularly in the realm of education—providing young immigrants important opportunities to establish connections, form relationships, and participate in the day-to-day life of their communities. The experiences of undocumented immigrant youth teach us about the two-sided nature of citizenship—such that persons can be removed from spaces, denied privileges and rights, but can experience belonging too.

Collectively this joint initiative aims to break new ground through analyses that are empirically informed, theoretically engaged and ethnographically rich and drawing on the expertise of scholars from a range of disciplinary backgrounds and state contexts. As immigration has become a topic of great visibility among scholars, policy makers, and the media, this endeavour holds appeal to a range of audiences. Read the Background paper & Call for Papers

TEDxEastEnd 2012

TEDxEastEnd 2012 is an opportunity to explore the realities and ideas around our increasingly interconnected world – how we can take advantage of the benefits this produces and tackle the simultaneous challenges it presents.  The line-up of the forthcoming event on Sat 13th October is impressive and I gladly accepted the invitation to join the list of speakers. My talk is scheduled at the end of the second segment (around 5pm). Tickets for TEDxEastEnd are sold out but the event will be broadcasted in live streaming from 2-7pm.

Operation Mayapple: Another name & shame campaign from the UK government

A few years ago the Labour government launched a name & shame campaign against employers who employed undocumented migrants and fined them with up to £10,000 for each worker. More recently the coalition government has employed a similar strategy to tackle tax avoidance . Following what must be deemed a successful model, in a similar fashion today the Home Office Border Agency is advertising the results of its latest law & order campaign named Mayapple started in May this year. The campaign is mostly a PR operation that comes after a series of fiascos in migration and border management (some self-inflicted as in the case of the ‘net migration’ policy) that have seriously affected the reputation of the Home Office and its Border Agency.

Video and photo cameras were sent with UKBA officers to film ‘law & order’ operations (maybe inspired by the experience accumulated with the participation to the UK Border Force TV series).

However, this is not a PR operation for the 2000 migrants who having overstayed and/or breached the terms of their visas had to return home.  One third was made of Indian citizens. The rest were mostly from Pakistan, Nigeria, China, Bangladesh and Brazil.

One is left wondering if there is any rationale behind these countries of origin. A devil’s advocate may argue that there is not one rationale but three. To maximise impact and minimise troubles, the ‘illegal migrants’ were carefully cherry picked according to the following criteria: a) no women and no children because human rights activists could make a fuss; b) no citizens of rich and wealthy allies (i.e. US, Canada and Australia) because their embassies could raise a few eyebrows; c) no white people because they don’t fit the stereotype of the ‘illegal’ migrants, and, added benefit, the choice would please a section of the right-wing electoral body.

There is also a further aspect to consider. As shown in an excellent piece published in the Brixton Blog, the Operation Mayapple doesn’t affect only the ‘illegal migrants’ who are eventually removed or the approval rating of  Damian Green, local residents in areas that have been targeted by UKBA’s raids feel criminalised and angered by UKBA’s heavy-handiness during the arrests. After last year’s riots, the Home Office should be wary of exacerbating community relations to achieve short term political gains.

120000 migrant children fall through the net: new report

An estimated 120,000 children living in the UK without legal immigration status are at risk of destitution, exploitation and social exclusion because of contradictory and frequently changing rules and regulations which jeopardise their access to healthcare, education, protection by the police and other public services, a new report published today by the University of Oxford shows.

The report No Way Out, No Way In: Irregular migrant children and families in the UK is published by the ESRC Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS) at the University of Oxford. It shows that irregular migrant children – more than half of whom were born in the UK and have lived here their entire lives – are being trapped between laws protecting children and the enforcement of migration control.

Dr Nando Sigona, the report’s main author, said: “Current immigration policy seems to override the concern for children’s rights. Nobody, not the public, nor the children or their families, benefits from this”.

Both international and British laws guarantee children access to education and healthcare, irrespective of their immigration status, and oblige public authorities to work in the children’s best interests. But increased demands on public authorities by the UK Border Agency – such as asking social services to report suspected irregular migrants – are pushing families and children away from essential services, leaving them more vulnerable and isolated. This can also mean that children and their families who are victims of serious crime may be afraid to report it to police because of their fears about their immigration status.

Frontline professionals like GPs and teachers are increasingly being asked to check the legal status of children in their care. Not having legal status can mean the children either don’t go to school or can’t participate fully. It also means they may not be able to register with a GP or that pregnant mothers who lack legal status may avoid antenatal and postnatal care for fear of being reported to UKBA.

Dr Paramjit Gill of The Royal College of General Practitioners stated: “Having a large group of young people without access to healthcare has significant public health implications such as missing out on routine immunisation and screening programmes”.

Dr Sigona said: “The point of the report is to identify the situation that these children are in, and the difficulties that this places on the public service providers with whom they come into contact. Teachers, GPs and social workers should be allowed to do their jobs without having to act as de facto immigration control officers”.

Through a vivid portrait of children’s everyday lives, the report shows the profound extent to which the immigration system can affect the health and educational achievements of irregular migrant children from an early age, and seeks to contribute to the policy debate on how to reconcile the protection of children’s rights and migration control for the benefit of both the children and British society more broadly.

Ilona Pinter, Policy Advisor on Young Refugees and Migrants, The Children’s Society said: “This research shows the harsh reality facing tens of thousands of undocumented migrant children across the UK. Denying families access to support and vital services is leaving children hungry, homeless and destitute. Regardless of their immigration status, the government has a responsibility to protect all children in the UK”.

Finally, considering that children who were born or spent most of their childhood in the UK are unlikely to be deported, and the potential negative impacts on British society of a long term excluded population, the report recommends policy makers to provide effective pathways for irregular migrant children to regularise their legal status.

About the report

The study was carried out by a research team at the ESRC Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS). It was funded by the Barrow Cadbury Trust and was part of a comparative research project in collaboration with the Institute for the Study of International Migration (ISIM) at Georgetown University (USA). The research team conducted their qualitative study over two years, interviewing 49 irregular migrant families from Jamaica, Afghanistan, China, Brazil, Nigeria and ethnic Kurds reaching in total over one hundred minors, and carrying out 30 interviews with public service providers (teachers and GPs), local authorities, policy makers and support organisations.

About the authors of the report

Dr Nando Sigona, the main author of the study, is Research Associate at the ESRC Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS) and Senior Research Officer at the Refugee Studies Centre,both at the University of Oxford. His main research interests include: irregular and child migration, asylum in the EU, Roma politics and anti-Gypsyism in Europe, and the relationship between migration, citizenship and belonging.

Vanessa Hughes is Research Assistant at the ESRC Centre on Migration, Policy and Society where she contributes on a number of research activities and projects on irregular and child migration, migrant integration in the EU, citizenship, and urban change.

Is the UKBA ‘not fit for purpose’? What purpose exactly?

By Nando Sigona

The Home Affairs Committee has published a report into the work of the UK Border Agency in which it criticises the UKBA for failing to deport more than 600 Foreign National Prisoners who were released between 1999 and 2006 and are still in the country, and for failing to clear the ever increasing “controlled archive” of unresolved cases in the Case Resolution Programme. The report calls on for the Home Office to ‘act immediately to deal with the public scepticism in the effectiveness of the UK Border Agency’. Keith Vaz MP (Labour), Chair of the Committee, said:

The reputation of the Home Office, and by extension, the UK Government, is being tarnished by the inability of the UK Border Agency to fulfil its basic functions.

The findings of the report are not particularly new and come out at a time when the Home Office has already started yet another restructuring of the Agency, including its split in two separate bodies. Interestingly, the UK Border Agency – responsible for securing the UK border at air, rail and sea ports and migration controls – was set up in 2008 following a very similar set of criticisms that forced the then Labour Home Secretary John Reid to declare that the Home Office’s immigration directorate was “not fit for purpose” and that a single Agency was needed to secure effective and efficient management of the UK border. This time the solution is the creation of two agencies.

The recurring nature of the arguments we see in today’s report prompts me to take a step back and ask what or who exactly is “not fit for purpose”? To answer this question, it may be worth spending a few words on the criteria on which the purposefulness of UKBA is being assessed. I will refer in particular to three criticisms highlighted in the report: the slowness to remove foreign national prisoners from the UK, the concern with the high rate of appeals brought against UKBA’s decisions which are decided against the Agency, and the large number of unresolved immigration cases still awaiting decision.

First, removing foreign national prisoners is more complicated (morally and practically) that the tabloid headlines and many politicians let us believe. Figures from the Independent Chief Inspector of the UKBA show that in the 12 months to February 2011 32% of appeals lodged by foreign national prisoners against deportation were successful. UKBA’s decisions were overturned in 425 cases in total mainly on the grounds that prisoners had established long-term links to the UK (Article 8 of HRA) – many, to put it crudely, are UK’s born and bred criminals. The Chief Inspector’s report also notes that by January 2011, over 1,600 foreign national prisoners were detained under immigration powers at the end of their custodial sentence pending deportation, with the average length of detention increasing from 143 days in February 2010 to 190 days in January 2011. The main reason for this is that people come from countries that are not necessarily keen to get individuals that have committed serious crimes back on their territory and deportation is therefore impossible to arrange. Besides these practical limitations that make removal difficult, it is striking the absence in mainstream political/public debate of any considerations of the moral and broader societal significance of deporting individuals that, having committed a crime, through imprisonment have paid their debt with justice and, instead of being given another chance (was not imprisonment meant to be a tool for rehabilitation?) are punished three times: first, with imprisonment, then with pre-deportation detention and finally by being forcibly removed to another country.

Second, the report criticises the UKBA because ‘[it] is still losing almost half of the appeals brought against it’ and recommends that ‘systems must be put in place to improve the Border Agency’s appeal figures’. Should the Home Affairs Committee be concerned instead with the fact that a large number of migrants are kept in uncertainty and destitution for a long time because a significant number of UKBA’s initial decisions are wrong? Is the Home Affairs Committee implicitly questioning and undermining the fairness of the British Judicial system? Does this line of argument ultimately endorse the coalition government’s draconian cuts to legal aid as a tool for securing higher success figures for the UKBA?

Third, the Case Resolution Directorate was set up to review the backlog of over 500,000 unresolved immigration and asylum cases cumulated over the last decade. The fact that most of these cases were pending and/or unresolved over a long time should have alerted politicians on their complexity, instead current political debate has being focusing obsessively on the date for the completion of the review. Not surprisingly the Case Resolution Directorate that had to rush through thousand of cases in a short time ended up with over half of the cases filled in the ‘other action required’ category, including 98,000 in ‘control archive’. But there is also another aspect related to the backlog that is missing in current debate, despite the attempts of current government to blame for the backlog the previous one, the reality is that immigration policy continues to produce irregular residents and in-between cases.

To conclude, the quotes that Keith Vaz fed to the press regarding the report encapsulate the nature of the political debate in the country, in particular the consensus between the main parties in terms of stated political goals and values on immigration. This consensus confines the space for political dialectics to a discussion on the capacity or incapacity of the ruling government to deliver or not what they all agree, which conveniently diverts attention from the politician to the bureaucrat and in due course will bring to yet another restructuring of the Home Office’s immigration sector. It seems to me that what need to be reassessed are the goals of UK’s immigration policy and that yet another restructuring of the UKBA can do little to solve the problems that political parties are creating by failing to understand and approach international human mobility outside the limited frame of securitisation and under the duress of looming (Tabloid-fed) moral panic.

Health status and legal status

Extract from the forthcoming report No way out, no way in: Irregular migrant children and families in the UK by Nando Sigona and Vanessa Hughes

Meeting the health needs of a growing and super-diverse foreign-born population in the UK is a challenge for health services. However, these needs are currently only partially acknowledged and addressed. As Jayaweera (2010: 1) points out, government policy ‘has focused largely on addressing ethnic inequality in health’, leaving aside other factors that may have an impact on migrants’ health needs and experiences of the healthcare system such as country of birth, language, length of residence and, significantly for the purpose of this study, immigration status.

The Confidential Enquiry into Maternal and Child Health is a case in point. While the 2007 report showed that about 20 per cent of deaths directly or indirectly related to pregnancy occur in women with poor or no antenatal care, it failed to consider that one of the main deterrents to access care may be the policy of charging ‘non ordinarily resident’ patients for maternity care introduced in 2004. For Maternity Action :

Charging women for maternity care has the effect of deterring women from accessing care, irrespective of formal rules requiring care to be provided even if the woman cannot pay in advance. Many women with limited resources are not prepared to take on a debt which they are unable to pay. To avoid the debt, they do not access services until they go into labour or something goes wrong.

Drawing on interviews with migrant children and parents, No way out, no way in offers qualitative insights into the impacts of undocumentedness on irregular migrant children’s health status.

The Arab Spring and beyond: human mobility, forced displacement and humanitarian crises

By Nando Sigona

Migration in its various forms has been part of the popular uprisings that have spread across North Africa and the Middle East in 2011. First, the columns of vehicles escaping from cities and villages under siege in Libya came to represent the plight of civilians caught between conflicting parties and played an important role in galvanising Western public opinion in support for the international involvement, both military and humanitarian, in Libya. Second, the isle of Lampedusa and the boats crammed with migrants and refugees crossing the Mediterranean Sea contributed to
resuscitating the powerful rhetoric of invasion in Europe and have come to represent the ambiguity of Western states’ responses to those fleeing from North Africa — this has included proposals for re-negotiating the Schengen
Agreement and increasing the role of Frontex, the EU agency tasked to coordinate the operational cooperation between Member States in the field of border security. Finally, the numerous dissidents returning from exile
give an indication of the involvement of diaspora organisations in the uprisings and raise interesting questions on the role they will play in the creation and consolidation of new state institutions.
These few examples only serve to alert us of the broader ramifications of the ways in which human mobility is intersecting current events in North Africa and the Middle East.
The ‘North Africa in Transition: Mobility, Forced Migration and Humanitarian Crises’ workshop organised by the Refugee Studies Centre in association with the International Migration Institute (IMI) on 6 May 2011 offered a platform to begin to explore how these events have affected and transformed existing patterns of mobility in the region and generated new ‘mixed’ migration flows. As a result of the crises, economic migrants have become forced migrants and forced migrants were forced into entering irregular migration channels in the search for survival, while others, including seasonal and long established migrants have become ‘involuntarily immobile’, such as migrant workers stuck inside Libya.
See the workshop report, with podcasts, at events/northafrica-in-transition
The RSC, IMI and the Oxford Diasporas Programme at the University of Oxford  are planning a follow-up workshop with the involvement of international scholars, practitioners and policy makers on 20th March 2012 which aims to reconsider the relationship between human mobility and the Arab Spring more broadly.