Friday 20 October 2017

This Is Who They Are

I thought I was numb to hearing about acts of cruelty by the UK immigration authorites. I was wrong.

Two cases this week gave me a sick, hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach.

  • Julie Bolitho's husband Vikram was deported from the UK, not because of any error on their part; not because they had fallen foul of the complex and arbitrary immigration rules; but because the Home Office had broken its own regulations and refused to back down from the error.
  • Leah Waterman is raising two young children, and caring for her husband Simon, who was severely disabled by a stroke. The Home Office has deported her, saying that Simon must act as sole carer to the children, even though he suffers from hours-long seizures and is unable to speak or write.

In a horrible way, these are the lucky ones. They have chosen to fight, can afford legal representation, and are articulate enough to get their stories into the media. Others must be simply going, silently; they have much to contribute to the UK, but are being thrown out for no good reason.

"What kind of man are you?"
--- Dave Brewster, The Man Who Wasn't There (2001)

Looking at these cases and others like them, I can only think how lucky I am that my wife got her UK citizenship in 2015 before this madness grew to its current scale. We were very, very lucky she qualified, and we could spare the money to get it done. (The fee at the time was £1025, and has since risen to £1282.)

This was just luck. I can't emphasise this enough. We have a young child. Family illness, unemployment, all sorts of things could have made us unable to afford a thousand pounds for a UK passport.

We might have thought to ourselves, it will all be fine, we can wait until finances allow it. She has indefinite leave to remain, after all. (Which, I might add, was neither easy nor cheap to get in its own right.)

Without warning, the UK authorities might have found or manufactured some excuse to deport her. Then we would have been dropped into the same nightmare as many others; either I would have to leave the country too, or be parted from my wife and son.

Let us consider the case of the Watermans. This is not a refusal to back down from an error; it has been deliberate from the start.

In isolation, the decision might have been some sort of mental breakdown on the part of an immigration officer.

Let's imagine Joe Smith is having a really bad day. This morning he found out his wife is having an affair with his best friend, she has cleaned out their joint savings account, and the two of them are currently living it up in Bali. He hates everything and everyone. He denies the visa out of sheer misanthropy, while chuckling evilly to himself.

The decision is sent out. It is queried by the Watermans' lawyer. At this point, someone at the Home Office other than Joe is made aware of the decision.

In a properly functioning organisation, Joe's superior is shocked and horrified. She apologises profusely to the family, and reverses the decision at once. Joe is suspended from work and given the mental health care he needs. Procedures are reviewed, to try and prevent such a thing happening again. In word and deed, the people who run the Home Office demonstrate this is not who they are.

This happy fantasy could scarcely be further from the truth. The employees of the Home Office have demonstrated exactly who they are. Their mission is to get the deportation numbers up, by any means possible. To them, the human cost and even their own rules are irrelevant.

I'm deliberately talking about people and employees, instead of some grey abstract entity called the Home Office. These choices were made by human beings. Maybe they feel bad about it, maybe not. They could resign and refuse to carry out such inhumane policy; but they have bills to pay, and who wants to throw away a secure job with a good pension in these uncertain times?

Incidentally, this is how ordinary citizens come to do terrible things. If it is acceptable to exile a woman who is the mother of two young British children, and married to a desperately ill British man, I have to wonder what could possibly be too much for Home Office officials.

Responsibility cascades upwards to the Home Secretary and ultimately the Prime Minister. The buck stops with Theresa May.

The Prime Minister's motivations are fairly clear. Her predecessor, David Cameron, announced an arbitrary migration target of no more than 100,000 per year. He had no plan for reaching it. Given free movement between the UK and the rest of the EU, it was unknown what such a plan could even look like. Immigration duly stayed well above the target, for which Cameron drew mockery and derision from all sides.

As Home Secretary at the time, Theresa May observed this fiasco at first-hand. Upon becoming Prime Minister, a confident and far-sighted leader might have abandoned the useless target. May was not such a leader. Instead, she evidently concluded Cameron's mistake was being too humane. With the application of sufficient cruelty, numbers arriving in the UK would fall soon enough.

Any concept of family, justice, or even economic productivity has been discarded. She wants lower immigration numbers as trophies for the mob, like so many severed heads to be displayed on London Bridge.

I feel like Big Dave in the Coen brothers' film The Man Who Wasn't There, played by the late, great James Gandolfini. When the protagonist's elaborate and cold-blooded scheme for revenge is revealed to Big Dave, he is almost too shocked to be angry. He sits at his desk, shaking his head with incredulity and saying quietly, "What kind of man are you?"

What kind of woman are you, Prime Minister?

Evidently, Theresa May is content to sacrifice as many families as she must, if her backbenchers and the tabloid press allow her to continue in office for just a little while longer. On some level, she must recognise the desperate condition of her premiership; and be driven by blind hope that something, anything will turn up, and history will not remember her as an unmitigated failure.

The Prime Minister is likely to be disappointed. The human cost of her downfall will be high, and it has only just begun.

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