Dear Home Secretary,
Once, when I was younger and more naïve, I heard a politician on the evening news talking about immigration. Well dressed and with immaculate delivery he spoke of tighter checks at borders, faster processing of asylum seekers and the need to reform the way in which people are given leave to live and work in Britain. Yet he also said that we should be proud. Proud that people from all over the world, be it to escape persecution, starts a new life or simply make a change, wish to come and settle in the British Isles. I have often wondered over the last week and a half, what happened to that spirit?
I wonder if, for a moment, you could imagine yourself in a different life. Let us say that you are of British descent but living in a compound in Saudi Arabia or in tower block on the outskirts of Beijing. Your parents came here from Britain decades ago in search of work and a better life. They may have been well qualified ‘back home’ but racial prejudice and their status as immigrants forced them to work in a menial role, with aching backs and stiff joints they washed floors and drove buses until their citizenship was earned. You were brought up, different from many of your school friends but unlike your parents born and raised in their new home. Hard work and determination freed you from some of the prejudice they had suffered and get a better job. There were still sly comments about your race at work and you never quite fulfilled your potential, too often you were passed over for promotion despite a record of hard work. Things have been better for your own children; you are now part of both a community of ex-immigrants and a wider national identity. There are still creases in the fabric of society, issues than need to be ironed out. But your parents would never have dreamed of the way you, British by ancestry, have made it in this new land.
Of course the British have not been a traveling race for years. Not since the early days of empire have we spread out across the globe in search of new opportunity. Neither have we ever truly been mass immigrants, always going forth as conquerors or oppressors. However, if one is willing to suspend disbelief, the tale above represents the mirror of those who have come to us. Immigrants from every inhabited region of the globe have come to the British Isles over the last sixty years and, through times of terrible prejudice, made a home here. If one can imagine what it would be like to do the reverse, to leave Britain for Jamaica or Pakistan or Ethiopia then one might also imagine the feeling of betrayal when, after such a long struggle to join a society, that society turns against you.
I am talking, of course, about the vans and the checkpoints. About the targeting of those who were not born white and the threatening figure of the police officer, at the entrance of an Underground station, demanding proof of citizenship. Can you try to imagine how that must feel, to have be born in Brixton or Brentford to parents who hoped you would grow up to be seen as British and not an immigrant? Have you ever been stopped on your way to work because of the colour of your skin?
Your department denies racially profiling those who have been stopped in the ‘intelligence lead’ operations of last week. They deny it so much that they never bothered to record the race of those questioned, a peculiar oversight for such a high profile and important operation. I am therefore left with the media as my only source of information. In every report, both on the airwaves, in print and on television the claim has been made time and time again, white people are not being stopped.
Is it government policy therefore that only those with black or brown skin are to be considered suspicious? There appear to be few other explanations for the apparent targeting of non-whites for checks. Is it also government policy not to inform people of their rights? Rights that do not require anyone to answer questions about their citizenship when confronted on the street. Can you tell me how many of those arrested truly are illegal immigrants? How many people are currently in cells having committed the heinous crime of being black and not carrying their passport to work?
The place to deal with illegal immigration is not upon the streets but at the borders. Rather than sending officers onto the streets of London to intimidate and divide communities why not have them on the quays at Dover? Perhaps intelligence lead operations should be directed at the gangs bringing people into Britain. Illegal immigrants do not appear, fully settled and employed, from nowhere. By definition they have come from overseas. Brought in and exploited by criminals. Far greater crimes have been committed bringing illegal immigrants into Britain than the crime of being here without consent.
Did Lynton Crosby tell you that a policy of stop and search would make the government appear strong on immigration? It was a tactic that worked for him in Australia. It would be interesting to know if you took any other advice. The vans and the Twitter campaign feel more like a public relations exercise than the expression of a well thought out, carefully implemented policy initiative. Again, much like the case of the missing information on the stop and search campaign itself no one can tell me.
Morally, there is no reason to deny people the right to live and work in Britain because they were born somewhere else. Economically, much as you try to ignore it as you pander to the far right, there is no case against immigration either. The idea of the lazy immigrant, come to live in Britain to sponge from the Welfare State, is wholly wrong. Of course the law needs to be enforced but rather than targeting those whose presence here does break the rules you have succeeded in threatening all immigrants. A billboard on the back of a van or the live Tweeting of the immigration ‘score’ – Home Office 160, Immigrants 0 – makes an alien of all those who are ‘different’. I ask you again, can you possibly imagine a reversal in roles? The hurt you would feel if, as a hardworking, tax paying resident of another country you were targeted for abuse by the state?
Perhaps there is some great immigration initiative of which this is just the first stage. However right now your actions appear to be more of a cheap publicity stunt than a serious policy. If immigration is really such an issue change the law, make it harder to get visas or put more staff on the borders. At the moment you are, to use a hackneyed phrase, closing the door after the horse has bolted. No amount of money spent on driving billboards or dawn raids is going to change the fact that Britain today is not a single culture. Immigration has enriched our society immeasurably and to deny that is to be both blind and stupid.
Yours in a state of concern,
A British Citizen