How the UK immigration apparatus killed a 84-year-old Canadian citizen

He died in handcuffs while detained at a UK privately-run and publicly-funded  detention centre – an 84-year-old Canadian with Alzheimer’s. But who was the man behind the tragedy? Why a simple question like this never get answered? Why do we accept that immigrants are only talked about as numbers – how many are detained, how many are deported, how many ‘net migrants’ exist this quarter and the next, how much they contribute or not to the economy, how much they (or we) cost to the UK welfare system.

Here you have an old engineer originally from Slovenia, who fought the Nazi occupation in Yugoslavia and moved to Canada after the war, an old widower who was travelling back to Slovenia to meet old relatives and, unfortunately for him, had to change plane at Gatwick, UK. He never made to Slovenia, Alois Dvorzac died at Harmondsworth immigration detention centre, and was not even an immigrant to the UK. This excellent report by Paraic O’Brien for Channel 4 News (18 March 2014) uncovers the story of Alois Dvorzac. After watching the video, I realised how unusual is for us to see and hear about the life of someone who died in an immigration detention centre, so much we got used to a conversation dominated by  dehumanising accounts coming from politicians, newspapers, tabloids, experts, and academics alike.

This is a country where an Immigration minister may resign for employing a maid with an expired visa, one would hope to see someone resigning for having created an immigration system that kills migrants, and sometimes even people that just happen to transit through one of its airports.

Our job is to be educators, not border guards

[Published in The Independent on 24 October]

UKBAWe write as academics concerned with the way in which the rhetoric over security is undermining the university as a place of learning and open discussion (“Is this really necessary? Universities introduce fingerprinting for international students”, 21 October).

The latest move by the universities of Sunderland and Ulster, singling out international students to give fingerprints to prove their attendance at lectures, is reprehensible and to be condemned in the strongest terms.

As academics, we have a duty of care towards all our students, and such policies undermine that relationship. We call on the universities of Sunderland and Ulster to withdraw the use of this system, and for all other universities to take seriously their commitment to equitable treatment of all their students.

We also call on the Government to stop putting pressure on universities to enact such immigration policies. This damages the international reputation of UK higher education at all institutions. We are educators, not border guards.

Gurminder K Bhambra, University of Warwick

John Holmwood, University of Nottingham

Chris Rossdale,  City University, London

Anupama Ranawana, University of Aberdeen

Robbie Shilliam, Queen Mary,  University of London

Hannah Jones, University of Warwick

Cecily Jones,  University of Warwick/Independent researcher

Adam Barker,  Independent academic

Kirsten Forkert, Birmingham City University

10.           Sonia McKay, London Metropolitan University

11.            Mark Cresswell, Durham University

12.            Steve French, Keele University

13.            Malcolm J. W. Povey, University of Leeds

14.           Alan Warde, University of Manchester

15.            Aaron Winter, University of Abertay

16.            Alexandra Kokoli, Middlesex University

17.            Andrew Sayer, Lancaster University

18.            Bev Skeggs, Goldsmiths, University of London

19.            Dennis Leech, University of Warwick

20.           Alison Phipps, University of Glasgow

21.            Myriam Salama-Carr, University of Salford

22.           Cath Lambert, University of Warwick

23.           Steve Jefferys, London Metropolitan University

24.           Gavin Brown, University of Leicester

25.           Cristian Serdean, De Montfort University

26.           David McCallam, University of Sheffield

27.            Claudia Marquesmartin, University of Aberdeen

28.           Sarah Annes Brown, Anglia Ruskin University

29.           James Elliott, University of Oxford

30.           Mark Toogood, University of Central Lancashire

31.            Marci Green, University of Wolverhampton

32.           Christian Fuchs, University of Westminster

33.           Lucy Suchman, Lancaster University

34.           Catherine Baker, University of Hull

35.           Michael Lewis, University of the West of England

36.           Mark Campbell, London Metropolitan University

37.            Jacob Copeman, University of Edinburgh

38.           Luke Martell, University of Sussex

39.           Rosa Vasilaki, University of Bristol

40.          Daniel Chernilo, Loughborough University

41.           Jo Grady, university of Leicester

42.           Kate Tunstall, University of Oxford

43.           Kathleen O’Donnell, Oxford Brookes University

44.          William McEvoy, University of Sussex

45.           Emma Mason, University of Warwick

46.           Michael Bailey, University of Essex

47.           Anne Barron, London School of Economics and Political Science

48.           Colin Wright, University of Nottingham

49.           Meera Sabaratnam, SOAS, University of London

50.           Kevin Sanders, University of Huddersfield

51.            Deana Rankin, Royal Holloway, University of London.

52.           Julia O’Connell Davidson, University of Nottingham

53.           Christine Achinger, University of Warwick

54.           Catriona Kelly, University of Oxford

55.           Adam Kaasa, London School of Economics and Political Science

56.           Katherine Ibbett, UCL

57.            John  Parkinson, University of Warwick

58.           Charlie Louth, University of Oxford

59.           Alexander Smith, University of Warwick

60.           Clive Gabay, Queen Mary,  University of London

61.            Ana Cecilia Dinerstein, University of Bath

62.           Naomi Eilan, University of Warwick

63.           Natalie Fenton, Goldsmiths, University of London

64.           Malcolm MacLean, University of Gloucestershire

65.           Anna Strhan, University of Kent at Canterbury

66.           Angela Last, University of Glasgow

67.            Jonathan S. Davies, De Montfort University

68.           Hazel Conley, Queen Mary College, University of London

69.           Des Freedman, Goldsmiths College, University of London

70.           Jeffery R. Webber, Queen Mary  College, University of London

71.            Jan Culik, University of Glasgow

72.            Jenny Pickerill, University of Leicester

73.            Daniel Orrells, University of Warwick

74.           Ayça Çubukçu, London School of Economics and Political Science

75.            Matthew Donoghue, Oxford Brookes University

76.            Patrick Ainley, University of Greenwich

77.            Suzanne Hall, London School of Economics and Political Science

78.            Lee Jones, Queen Mary College, University of London

79.            Michael Loughlin, Manchester Metropolitan University

80.           Barry Smart, University of Portsmouth

81.            Gargi Bhattacharyya, University of East London

82.           Alain Viala, University of Oxford

83.           Rick Jones, University of Leeds

84.           Hilde C. Stephansen, The Open University

85.           Helen Swift, University of Oxford

86.           Hugo Gorringe, University of Edinburgh

87.            Marika Sherwood, Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London

88.           Geoff Williams, UCL

89.           John MacInnes, University of Edinburgh

90.           Goldie Osuri, University of Warwick

91.            Paul Bagguley, University of Leeds

92.           Victoria Blake, University of Leeds

93.           Uri Gordon, Loughborough University

94.           Brenda Johnston, University of Southampton

95.           Srila Roy, University of Nottingham

96.           Lynne Pettinger, University of Essex

97.            Ruth Kinna, Loughborough University

98.           Rachael Dobson, Kingston University

99.           David Owen, University of Southampton

100.        Bahar Baser, University of Warwick

101.         Bob Brecher, University of Brighton

102.        Jo Littler, City University, London

103.        Andreas Bieler, University of Nottingham

104.        Nick Clark, London Metropolitan University

105.        Anna Kemp, Queen Mary, London University

106.        Michael S. Northcott, University of Edinburgh

107.         William Outhwaite, Newcastle University

108.        Deborah Lynn Steinberg, University of Warwick

109.        Alpesh Maisuria, University of East London

110.         Philip Moriarty, University of Nottingham

111.          Derek Sayer, Lancaster University

112.         Raphael Salkie, University of Brighton

113.         Marion Hersh, University of Glasgow

114.         Mick Carpenter, University of Warwick

115.         Katherine Angel, Queen Mary, University of London

116.         Philip Grant, University of Edinburgh

117.          Ronald Mendel,  University of Northampton

118.         Bronislaw Szerszynski, Lancaster University

119.         Karma Nabulsi, Oxford University

120.        Pablo Schyfter, The University of Edinburgh

121.         Cassie Earl, Manchester Metropolitan University

122.         Emma Carmel, University of Bath

123.         Roger Jeffery, University of Edinburgh

124.        Patricia Jeffery, University of Edinburgh

125.         Michael Rosie, Sociology, university of Edinburgh

126.         Jeff Hearn, University of Huddersfield

127.         Anamik Saha, University of Leeds

128.         Karim MurjI, The Open University

129.         Doreen Crawford De Montfort University

130.        Joe Deville, Goldsmiths, University of London

131.         Sara Ahmed, Goldsmiths, University of London

132.         Kay Peggs, University of Portsmouth

133.         Caroline Warman, Jesus College, Oxford

134.        Stuart Hodkinson, University of Leeds

135.         Mikko Kuisma, Oxford Brookes University

136.         Les Back, Goldsmiths, University of London

137.         John Baker, University of Westminster

138.         Marian Mayer, Bournemouth University

139.         Steve Garner, Open University

140.        Chris Jones, Liverpool John Moores University

141.         Max Farrar, Leeds Met University

142.        Khursheed Wadia, University of Warwick

143.        Bahadur Najak, Durham University

144.        Richard Hall, De Montfort University

145.        Isobel Urquhart, University of Cambridge

146.        Susan A J Stuart, University of Glasgow

147.         Gavin Williams, St Peter’s College, Oxford University

148.        Kate Hardy, University of Leeds

149.        Will Davies, University of Warwick

150.        Colette Fagan, University of Manchester

151.         Hannah Lewis, University of Leeds

152.         Saer Maty Ba, Independent Academic

153.         Bernard Sufrin, Oxford University

154.        Aylwyn Walsh: University of Lincoln

155.         Lauren Tooker, University of Warwick

156.         Andy Danford, Bristol Business School, University of the West of England

157.         Jason Hart, University of Bath

158.         Siobhan McGrath, Lancaster University

159.         Charles Brown, University of Westminster

160.        Madeleine Davis, Queen Mary, University of London

161.         Tony Side, Middlesex University

162.         David Evans, St Mary’s University College

163.         Jason Tucker, University of Bath

164.        Anne-Marie Kramer, University of Nottingham

165.         Nickie Charles, University of Warwick‏

166.         John T. Gilmore, University of Warwick

167.         Stephen Williams, Worcester College, University of Oxford

168.         Ben Rogaly, University of Sussex

169.         Viviana Ramirez, University of Bath

170.         Peter Cressey, University of Bath

171.          Emma Jackson, University of Glasgow

172.         Dženeta Karabegović, University of Warwick

173.         Mette Louise Berg, University of Oxford

174.         Shahnaz Akhter, University of Warwick

175.         Diana Paton, Newcastle University

176.         Maja Savevska, University of Warwick

177.          Dibyesh Anand, University of Westminster

178.         Gary Hazeldine, Birmingham City University

179.         Judith Bara, Queen Mary University of London

180.        Roberta Mulas, University of Warwick

181.         Ima Jackson, Glasgow Caledonian University

182.         Graham Smith, University of Northampton

183.         Christine Gledhill, University of Sunderland

184.        Joyce Canaan, Birmingham City University

185.         Mark Addis, Birmingham City University

186.         Claudia Baldoli, Newcastle University

187.         Xavier Guégan, Newcastle University.

188.         Naaz Rashid, University of Manchester

189.         Carlos Frade, University of Salford

190.        Jill Steans, University of Birmingham

191.         Ross Abbinnett, University of Birmingham

192.         Simona Pino, University of Warwick

193.         Lisa Tilley, University of Warwick

194.        Neelam Srivastava, Newcastle University

195.         Christalla Yakinthou, University of Birmingham

196.         Franck Düvell, University of Oxford

197.         Laura Jenkins, University of Birmingham

198.         Felix Robin Schulz, Newcastle University

199.         Tessa Wright, Queen Mary, University of London

200.       Oscar Garza, University of Bath

201.        Robin Cohen, University of Oxford

202.        Beatrice Godwin, University of Bath

203.        Laura Povoledo, Bristol Business School, University of the West of England

204.       Christian Karner, University of Nottingham

205.        Nick Mai, London Metropolitan University

206.        John Clarke, Open University

207.        Sarah Campbell, Newcastle University

208.        Rachel Lara Cohen, City University London

209.        Andrew Wells, Independent Academic

210.        Deema Kaneff, University of Birmingham

211.         Nando Sigona, University of Birmingham

212.         Kevin McSorley, University of Portsmouth

213.         Julie Ryan, Manchester Metropolitan University

214.        Maddie Breeze, University of Edinburgh

215.         Nicola Clarke, Newcastle University

216.         Luke Yates, University of Manchester

217.         Georgie Wemyss, University of East London

218.         Anneliese Dodds, Aston University

219.         Tom Vickers, Northumbria University

220.        Bryce Evans, Liverpool Hope University

221.         Ben Jackson, Oxford University

222.        Ipek Demir, University of Leicester

223.        Clare Madge, University of Leicester

224.        Parvati Raghuram, Open University

225.        Veit Schwab, University of Warwick

226.        Stephen Jones, University of Bristol

227.         Duncan Harcus, Aberdeen Business School, Robert Gordon University

228.        Elizabeth B Silva, Open University

229.        Robert Fine, University of Warwick

230.        Peter Fletcher, Keele University

231.         Lena Karamanidou, City University London

232.        Vicky Margree, University of Brighton

233.        Martin Farr, Newcastle University

234.        Alice Mah, University of Warwick

235.        Bahadir Çeliktemur, University of Warwick

236.        Esther Bott, University of Nottingham

237.         Stephen Kemp, University of Edinburgh

238.        Marijn Nieuwenhuis, University of Warwick

239.        Marisol Sandoval, City University London

240.       Laura Harvey, Brunel University

241.        Matt Kranke, University of Warwick

242.        Seref Kavak,  Keele University

243.        Sarah Burton, Goldsmiths College, University of London

244.       Darya Malyutina, UCL

245.        Dave Featherstone, University of Glasgow

246.        Benjamin Houston, Newcastle University

247.        Elisa Lopez Lucia, University of Warwick

248.        Maja Cederberg, Oxford Brookes University

249.        Laura Prazeres, Royal Holloway, University of London

250.        Daniel Fitzpatrick, UCL

251.         Tracey Warren, University of Nottingham

252.        Melissa Fernandez Arrigoitia, LSE

253.        Robert Cowley, University of Westminster

254.        Ibrahim Sirkeci, Regent’s University London

255.        Guillermo M., Goldsmiths College

256.        Simon Bradford, Brunel University

257.         Rowland Atkinson, University of York

258.        Jennifer Fraser, Birkbeck College

259.        Elizabeth Dowler, University of Warwick

260.        Stephen Ashe, University of Stirling

261.         Jo Halliday, Goldsmiths College London

262.        Marika Mura, University of Warwick

263.        Liz Bondi, University of Edinburgh

264.        Simon Cross, Nottingham Trent University

265.        Tim Lang, City University London

266.        Sian Lucas, University of Salford

267.         Kim Allen, Manchester Metropolitan University

268.        Gail Davidge, Manchester Metropolitan University

269.        Sarah Goler, University of Warwick

270.        Sanoj Tulachan, University of Warwick

271.         Aggie Hirst, City University London

272.         Rachna Leveque, University College London

273.         Jim Lusted, University of Northampton

274.        Samiksha Sehrawat, Newcastle University

275.         Leah Bassel, University of Leicester

276.         Derek Averre, University of Birmingham

277.         Sarah Lamble, Birkbeck College, University of London

278.         Liza Schuster, City University London

279.         Misato Matsuoka, University of Warwick

280.        Benoit Dutilleul, University of the West of England

Healthcare of undocumented migrant children

[Article published in the Runnymede  Bulletin Spring 2013]

 Nando Sigona analyses the predicament of undocumented migrants and the way the uncertainty and stress of the family struggle, as well as restricted access to healthcare services, impact the mental and physical well-being of the children.

Cover, Runnymede Bulletin, Spring 2013

Cover, Runnymede Bulletin, Spring 2013

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.

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 in the UK and immigration status. The Confidential Enquiry into Maternal and Child Health is a case in point. While it 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 maternity care may be the policy of charging “non-ordinarily resident” patients that was introduced in 2004. Significantly, the Department of Health did not carry out a health impact assessment of the new rules.

According to 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 are not prepared to take on a debt which they are unable to pay and consequently limit accessing services until delivery.

This is further exacerbated by current initiatives aimed at directly linking debt incurred with the NHS to entitlement to gain legal access to the UK. Similarly, research has focused on the health needs and outcomes of specific categories of migrants, such as refugees, asylum seekers, unaccompanied minors, and thus paying significantly less attention to other categories, such as undocumented migrants, including children.

Drawing on research that my colleagues and I carried out at the University of Oxford (2010–2012) and which was funded by the Barrow Cadbury Trust, I will try to highlight, through the testimonies of undocumented parents, some of the impacts of that the lack of legal immigration status has on children’s health status and access to healthcare.

The combination of precarious immigration status, restricted access to healthcare, and financial hardship often has serious effects on migrants’ physical and mental health and can result in chronic conditions such as asthma, migraines and depression. Michelle, a Jamaican mother, explained how her immigration status affected her:

Mentally, it’s really bad. We’re just sitting here, staring, wondering where the next meal is going to come from, when the next bill is going to be paid.

The precarious situation that many undocumented parents experience often means that any change in their situation or negative experience can easily lead to a downward spiral. Talking about her father’s funeral in Jamaica, Jackie, a mother of three, said:

Everyone was like going over, I couldn’t go… my sisters, brothers, they all went over. I was the only child that wasn’t there. I couldn’t eat, couldn’t do nothing.

Seventeen out of 53 interviewees in the Oxford study, both parents and independent migrant children, reported mental health issues that were associated with stress linked to their immigration status. However, signs of stress, exhaustion, anxiety and other impacts on health due to financial and immigration status insecurities were noticeable in most interviews. The majority of the interviewees who explicitly talked about their mental health problems were parents. A number of them reported that they were treated with anti-depressants and/or counselling during pregnancy.

Reasons given for feeling depressed or “low” included fear of being deported or detained, not knowing what will happen in both the near and the distant future, not being able to talk about their problems, losing support networks, or not having any support in the first instance and thus feeling isolated, and being in inadequate accommodation arrangements. Princess, a Jamaican mother of two, explained the uncertainty that she experienced on a daily basis:

At the end of the day, you don’t know. It’s like in your heart you’re wondering ‘is someone going to knock at your door? Is someone going to knock at your door?

Parents’ mental health status has repercussions on children. In the study, we observed that this effect often became circular, in that the parent then again worried about their children being affected by their situation. A young mother explained:

When I’m crying she always catches me, even when I don’t want her to see me. ‘Mum, what’s wrong? Why are you crying? Don’t worry, don’t worry. It will get better, I’m gonna pray. Don’t worry.’ You know, when an eight-year-old says that to you ‘it will get better’ it breaks your heart more, it breaks your heart more.

A Kurdish mother spoke out her concern for the wellbeing of her children who had already experienced detention and deportation and had to witness how she was sat down on the floor and handcuffed by the police:

The children were looking into my eyes, they were distraught. I mean the things we went through in the five years, when we came and when we went.

Read the full report: No way out, no way in: Irregular migrant children and families in the UK

King Nigel’s Speech: recasting ‘us’ and ‘them’

[Article published in OpenDemocracy, 13 May 2013)

In the UK political debate, boundaries are being blurred between the two hot topics on the political agenda: migration and the EU. This should be a wake-up call for the 2.7 million European immigrants living and working in the UK, says Nando Sigona.

Nigel Farage, UKIP leader

Nigel Farage, UKIP leader

Written by the government and delivered by the reigning monarch, the Queen’s speech sets out the legislative agenda for the year aheadAs expected, David Cameron, the UK Conservative Prime Minister and his coalition government have used this year’s Queen’s speech to offer a quick if rather panicked response to the recent electoral success of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) which gained 139 council seats in the 2013 local elections.

The speech places immigration firmly at the centre of the political agenda, as if the crisis of the banking system and a poorly performing economy didn’t exist or could be attributed through some rather obscure association to the presence of non-British residents. As Alex Andreou has explained in a comment in the New Statesman, Nigel Farage, leader of UKIP, ‘has merely acted as the catalyst, by stepping into an emotional vacuum left by mainstream parties’, providing a comforting but ultimately useless solution to the current crisis at a time when mainstream parties are all perceived as distant, elitist and impermeable to what is happening outside Westminster. What the Queen’s speech did is to legitimate the anti-immigration and anti-EU rhetoric of UKIP as a solution to the crisis, something that the Conservative Party right-wing had failed to achieve until now.

Besides the headline-grabbing statements against illegal migrants, speeding deportation for foreign-born criminals and fighting alleged abuses of the welfare system, the Queen’s speech is underpinned by a wider vision which at the core criminalises migrants and migration to an extent we hadn’t previously observed in recent mainstream British politics. This criminalisation also extends to EU citizens, until recently kept relatively protected from anti-immigration campaigners and politicians. This is with the noticeable exception of Romanians and Bulgarians, whose possible arrival following the lifting of the existing restrictions on access to the job market and welfare system in early 2014 is generating waves of moral panic.

By associating intra-EU mobility more closely to immigration, the Queen’s speech blurs the boundaries between the two hot topics on the political agenda: migration and the EU, and turns the moral panic generated by the arrival and settlement of Romanians and Bulgarians, the ‘new’ Europeans to paraphraseformer US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, into yet another argument in support of Eurosceptic politics.

As a researcher working on migration, asylum and minority rights for over a decade, I am familiar with the rising criminalisation of asylum seekers in the UK: the use of enforced destitution, dispersal and detention to deter new arrivals and force those no longer entitled to stay to leave the country. Furthermore, I have documented the plight of undocumented children and young people kept in legal limbo, non-deportable and yet excluded from formal citizenship.

As a foreigner myself, an EU citizen who has lived in the UK for the last 12 years, I feel increasingly uncomfortable with the tone and contents of the debate on immigration. I feel more and more part of the population I study, experiencing personally some of the feelings and anxieties that I am used to hearing from the individuals I interview.

Of course, this is not to say that as an Italian I go through the same ordeal as, for example, that of someone seeking asylum in the UK. But I can certainly say that over the last year or so I have felt increasingly more like an immigrant to whom the right to reside in the UK is granted from above (and can be withdrawn if needs be for electoral considerations) than an EU citizen, that is, part of a pan-European political community founded on the principles of freedom of movement and equality among its citizens.

With this realisation came a renewed sense of empathy for those non-EU migrants who on a daily basis have to negotiate or subject key decisions in their personal life to a faceless bureaucrat somewhere in Croydon (i.e. the UK Border Agency’s HQ) who can decide if a marriage is legitimate, if one can go to a funeral back home, or if a non-British father can be with his British partner at the birth of their child in London. For Romanian and Bulgarian migrants the boundary between being an immigrant and an EU citizen has already been blurred for a while, long before the so-called ‘old’ Europeans.

According to the Oxford-based Migration Observatory, data from the 2011 Census suggest that 2.7 million residents of England and Wales were born in other EU countries. About 1.1 million of those (41%) were born in countries which joined the EU in 2004 (Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia) or afterwards (Bulgaria and Romania). The majority of the EU citizens are therefore people like me (and it feels awkward to talk of myself in terms of my nationality): Italians, Germans, Spaniards, French, Greeks etc.

Until recently, one wouldn’t have heard politicians talk about ‘us’ in the same breath with the ‘other’ foreigners, but the economic crisis and a government in search of scapegoats are changing the terms of the debate. This is a wake-up call for many who felt that the tough talk on immigration was never about them, that somehow they were bullet-proofed from attacks by right-wingers and alike. In other words this is a wake-up call for a largely politically invisible population, with no right to vote at general elections, no spokespersons or campaign organisations, but also with rather powerful states behind them and relatively good social positions in British society.

We may realise soon that all mainstream political parties, faced with the challenge of UKIP, may be prepared to sacrifice us for the sake of electoral victory. For if the Queen’s speech marks a further shift towards the right of the political spectrum of the political debate on immigration, the Labour opposition demonstrates once again little will to fight the battle for immigrants and immigrants’ rights, as well as for the EU and EU citizens. The shadow minister Yvette Cooper more often than not attacks the government for not being able to control immigration and borders, as confirmed recently in a major speech at the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR). It’s hard to see how these tactical responses may lead to a different strategy and new ways of thinking on migration.

The Queen’s speech has thus contributed to redrawing the boundaries between ‘us’ and ‘them’, and for some of us this came as a realisation that the position we thought to occupy in British society as fellow EU citizens is gradually being eroded by a dangerous combination of anti-foreigner and anti-EU sentiments. This is happening without much opposition. Times of crisis also bring new opportunities. New spaces for political mobilisation may yet open up and lead to the emergence of new political subjects in British politics: ‘old’ and ‘new’ Europeans fighting back.

 

Happy Valentine’s Day from the Home Office

ho_valentineTo ‘celebrate’ Valentine’s Day the UK Home Office is publishing on Twitter/Flickr a stream of archive pictures and videos  of sham brides and grooms arrested in UKBA operations. Repeating a ‘name & shame’ communication strategy used already to mark the arrest of a number of visa overstayers last summer (see my comment on the Mayapple Operation), Thresa May’s Home Office offers yet another proof of its ‘zero tolerance’ approach to unlawful immigration – no matter that it is its own continuous moving of the goalposts that is making many migrants unlawfully resident. This use of social media is rather disconcerting, especially because it show very little care for the pains the Home Office is inflicting on thousands of couples and families torn apart by immigration rules, pains that can hardly justify the discovery of a handful of ‘genuine’ sham marriages (you can read my comment on the family rules here).

ho-valentine-1

There is also another (small) question mark here: in the caption to the photos, the Home Office claims to have conducted 300 operations and as a result prosecuted 230 people for sham marriages. Now if I understand the maths  and obviously this is a very rough calculation, assuming that for any successful operation they have prosecuted at least 2 people (bride and groom), this would mean that about 115 operations were successful, which leaves one thinking: what about the rest? Did the Home Office intervene to stop about 185 alleged sham marriages that were in reality genuine (even in its own narrow terms)? Have they ever apologized to them? Definitely not an happy Valentine’s day for them.

UK immigration policy: we need to talk about citizens (and citizenship)

[Article published in OpenDemocracy 50:50 on 4 February 2013]

The family rules introduced by the UK government as part of its crusade to curb net migration are surreptitiously redefining the meaning of citizenship and the boundaries between the state and its subjects, says Nando Sigona.

There is nothing new about seeing immigration and immigrants used as scapegoats for popular anxiety or as a diversion from the economic crisis (see the significant following of Golden Dawn in Greece). It is even less surprising to see politicians mobilize electoral support around the moral panic surrounding new immigrant arrivals (see lately the terms and tone of the debate on potential new arrivals from Romania and Bulgaria). Still, the new immigration family rulesintroduced last summer shed light on a less visible side of immigration policy and practice: the permeability and historically contingent nature of the boundaries between citizenship and non-citizenship and the concrete ways immigration rules produce and shape not only the position, entitlements and experiences of non-citizens in society, but also the very meaning of what citizenship is and of what being a citizen entails.

The conversation on migration seems to be mainly focused on the consequences of human mobility, polarised between those campaigning for migration and migrants’ rights on the one hand, and those concerned with the impact of migration on public services, social cohesion and security on the other.  Less attention is afforded to the impact of immigration governance on migrants and even less on citizens. There are some noticeable exceptions, as demonstrated by recent work carried out at the University of Oxford. Researchon undocumented migrant children in the UK shows how, despite both international and British laws which guarantee children access to education and healthcare irrespective of their immigration status, increased demands on public authorities by the UK Border Agency (UKBA) are pushing children and families away from essential services, leaving them more vulnerable and isolated. Similarly, Bridget Anderson’s latest book examines how the ‘dangerous politics of immigration control’ shapes the relationship between Good CitizensFailed Citizens and Non-Citizens.

UK citizens are becoming used to the gradual and pervasive penetration of UKBA into their hospitals, GP practices, universities, colleges and schools; the turning of public services into outposts of immigration enforcement. They are becoming used to being asked to present a valid visa or passport when applying for a job, or to sign a register used to assess whether they are a ‘bogus’ or genuine student when attending a lecture. These practices have become the norm for all, immigrants and citizens alike, and up to now they have faced relatively little opposition.

Initiatives such as the National Allegations Database, which encourages the public to act as UKBA informers through spying on their neighbours, or on anyone who they think, for whatever reason, might be residing illegally in the UK, have moved the bar even further, subcontracting an important task of immigration control to law-abiding citizens. Information collected via the database is to be processed by new privatized immigration officers working for Capita plc.

While this attempt to stretch immigration control well beyond the control of external borders into public services seems to be the dominant trend, there are also signs that this approach may turn out to be both politically and administratively unmanageable. The frequent scandals that have seen the UKBA and its sister agency UK Border Force accused repeatedly of poor efficacy and transparency, despite management reshuffles and various rounds of restructuring, highlight the limits of a bureaucratic apparatus that is overgrown through successive layers of legislation. These constant reforms have left behind a complex machinery, full of incongruences that make it not only extremely difficult to manage but also vulnerable to legal challenges from multiple sides.

There is nevertheless an element of novelty to the way the new family rules, almost as a side effect, intervene and interfere in one of the most intimate and private spheres of a citizen’s life. This raises important questions concerning what exactly it is that the government assesses when evaluating the impact of immigration policy, and how it defines (rather narrowly) the ‘main affected groups’ in a way that consciously leaves aside an analysis of the unequal impacts of its measures on citizens and citizenship.

The introduction of the new family policy has made family reunion for citizens and migrants with non-EU partners more difficult, and subject to a complex and time-consuming procedure which can take months to complete. This has obvious consequences for relationships, and particularly for children. The rules set a new minimum income threshold of £18,600 for bringing to the UK a spouse or partner, fiancé(e) or proposed civil partner of non-EU nationality, with an even higher threshold depending on the number of dependent children. These measures are part of the UK government’s grand plan to curb net migration to ‘the tens of thousands rather than the hundreds of thousands’, in the words of British Prime Minister David Cameron. The use of net migration, that is the difference between in-migration and out-migration, as a compass of immigration policy is highly questionable and has been criticised on a number of grounds, not least because it relies on the level of emigration, an independent variable that is not directly or significantly affected by immigration policy.

There is also a further aspect to consider. As Agnes Woolley has explained, the immigration rules do not impact all citizens in the same way. The analysisof the University of Oxford’s Migration Observatory clearly shows that some groups of citizens are affected significantly more than others, including the more than 40% of British people in employment who do not qualify due to their low income. Those who will not qualify are mainly women, young people in their twenties, or residents of Wales, Merseyside, North West England, and Yorkshire and Humberside. A look at the recently released Census dataconfirms that there are a very large number of UK citizens from a variety of social backgrounds who increasingly live in mixed status families who could be impacted by the new family rules. If we turn numbers into words, we could say that the government’s goal to control immigration and immigrants has become a vehicle for class politics, or, perhaps more crudely, that the citizenship rights of many Britons are being threatened by a policy designed to serve the interests and visions of a London-centric, ageing, male-dominated elite.

Families directly affected by the new rules are starting to speak out in an effort to create public interest and support. Stories are beginning to surface of families torn apart by the new rules, of young couples no longer able to live together, of children separated by one of their parents, of elderly family members left behind in order to comply with the new rules. Many of these stories are being collated in a new blog entitled BritCits, the name of which is in itself revealing, suggesting as it does an analysis of the devastating impact of these new immigration policy from the perspective not of would-be entrants, but of British citizens. The inefficiency of the system is also back under public scrutiny following the recent revelation of yet another backlog; victims here include wealthy British citizens kept away for months from their American wives because applications are sitting in boxes unopened. These stories challenge unspoken assumptions regarding who it is that is the target of immigration policy, and also who should feel the urge to oppose them. This realisation may ultimately succeed in creating a larger social movement against effects and side effects of current immigration policy which, in contrast to an immigration discourse that polarises immigrants and citizens, unites them in a common cause.

What future for undocumented migrant children in the UK?

compasHere the ppt of the Compas Breakfast Briefing I gave in December on the situation of undocumented migrant children in the UK.

An estimated 120,000 undocumented migrant children live in the UK. A large majority of these are either born in the country or migrated here at an early age. These children were brought up in the UK, educated in British schools and many speak English as their main language. Successive British governments have provided undocumented migrant  children with some entitlement to public services. However, contradictory and frequently changing rules and regulations, cuts to public spending, and broader reforms in the provision of public services mean that even when legal provisions still exist, access to public services has become limited in practice, which can lead to destitution and social exclusion. The risk of producing a generation of disenfranchised youth, de facto non-deportable and yet excluded from citizenship, should not be underestimated and demands sensible and pragmatic solutions.

This briefing is based on ‘No way out, no way in: Irregular migrant children and families in the UK’ by Nando Sigona and Vanessa Hughes (2012). The COMPAS study was funded by the Barrow Cadbury Trust.