Amid the scandal of the Windrush generation there are other horrors that should also be worrying us.
In 2014 there was a report entitled ‘Chasing Status’ about ‘surprised Brits’ who have found they are living with irregular immigration status. This gives the lie to the alleged, sudden realisation by the government, last week, of the ‘unintended consequences’ created by their ‘hostile environment’. Kate Hoey even received a letter to prove it. Having known of the problems for the last four years, government apologies are clearly either completely insincere or simply a recognition of their own incompetence.
Government insouciance is arguably even more important where it concerns children, who were also included in the same report. These ‘surprised Brits’ are children who have either been brought here as minors or been born to people who were themselves of unsettled immigration status. As children (for children are subject The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), which the Supreme Court held in 2011, imposes binding international legal obligations on the UK) they can attend school and are entitled to health care. When, however, they decide that they might like to go to university, they find that they are not allowed to apply for a student loan as they are undocumented (ie do not have permission – confusingly usually referred to as ‘leave’ – to enter or remain in the UK.)
This is no small problem. In 2012 it was estimated that there were 120,000 undocumented children in the UK, 65,000 of whom were born here. I doubt the problem has diminished.
A further report ‘This is My Home’ almost a year ago from the Childrens’ Legal Centre, pointed out the problems for this group in even more detail, suggesting the likelihood that many, if not most of these children will be non-deportable as they would otherwise become stateless. Further, as a result of changes introduced in April 2013, legal aid is no longer available for the majority of immigration cases, so resolution is problematic.
To make a nationality application a fee is required to be paid, but this is a revenue earning exercise and not only does it not reflect the actual costs of administration, but actually constitutes a profit centre for the Home Office. Applicants must also pay an ‘Immigration Health Surcharge’. And, of course, where an application is unsuccessful, the application fee and surcharge are not refundable. More revenue to pay down the deficit think the Tories, I imagine.
The trouble is that when these children reach adulthood these actual citizens of nowhere may not be entitled to anything but emergency healthcare. Thus with a significant population of UK residents lacking access to primary healthcare this results in higher costs to the NHS because preventative care has been lost and it also has potentially dangerous implications for public health. Public health is the health of everyone. The ‘hostile environment’ becomes, more and more of a self inflicted wound.
You would have thought that with government emphasis on the desirability and security of ‘the strong and stable’ family then family should actually be at the centre of policies aimed at promoting the best interests of migrant children. To use language the government might understand these children represent a excellent potential resource, and one where there has already been substantial UK investment in education.
Yet the ‘hostile environment’ causes not only the potential and energy of that resource, but also its UK investment to be slowly dissipated by UK legislative design. ‘The resource’ spends all its youthful time and energy in trying to become a documented member of that society of which it is already a part. The ‘hostile environment’ has turned in on itself. It has turned in on us.
Has there ever been a government that so relished draining the country’s resources for no purpose other than general impoverishment?