At yesterday’s Hands Off My Workmate conference a speaker from London Citizens argued for a limited and conditional amnesty for some unregularised migrants as the only ‘pragmatic’ means of helping them settle in Britain. Similar arguments were made at a May 4th demonstration organised by London Citizens, and here we present a translation of a text distributed at that event by the Coordinadora Latinoamericana.
In a political context, the expression ‘amnesty’ means a general ‘pardon’, turning the page and forgetting the past. In the immigration context this means a ‘grace’ which certain states eventually give to allow certain immigrants meeting given conditions to be able to be regularised. In our view, the idea of amnesty must have the widest possible meaning and cover and benefit all immigrants. In other words, amnesty must mean papers for all.
The EU’s prescription for immigration
There have been two main EU debates on the matter of immigration, the first being the passing of the ‘Return Directive’ by the European Parliament in June 2008; the second, the adoption of the ‘European Pact on Immigration and Asylum’ as debated by the ministers of the European Council in July 2008.
Much has already been said about the ‘Return Directive’, but fundamentally it means a set of norms defining the processes of detaining and expelling unregularised migrants. All those people who enter the EU clandestinely, as well as those who arrive with temporary leave to remain or a tourist visa but decide to stay, are considered unregularised migrants.
The system advocates the voluntary return of the unregularised migrant as the first measure taken. The person notified of their ‘return’ order has only a few days to leave the country. If the migrant does not leave voluntarily, or if “there are well-founded arguments to believe there is a risk [the migrant] will flee”, the authorities can take them to a detention centre for a maximum period of 6 month while the legal measures to return them back to their country are processed.
If the immigrant does not co-operate, for example falsifying their country of origin or identity, their detention can be extended to a maximum of 12 months while legal measures are processed. The system prohibits the expelled immigrant from entering the European Union for up to five years.
The “European Pact on Immigration and Asylum” is an agreement designed to limit and control the flux of legal immigration, strengthen controls to prevent clandestine immigration, arrange the co-operation of Third World countries and lay the basis of asylum policy.
The spirit of the Pact is to limit and regulate legal immigration “in the service of the needs of the labour market and member states’ ability to accept migrants”. It privileges the entry of skilled labour, such as professionals and scientists, conforming to the idea of “pick-and-choose immigration”. As a condition for their regularisation, immigrants must learn the language of the country they arrive in, and grasp a basic understanding of its customs and institutions. With these measures, European governments aspire to reduce the flux of regular migrants and ensure that those who are authorised correspond to the economic and demographic needs of the countries they arrive in.
These measures were approved by the European Parliament, dominated by right-wing parties, with the support of the so-called social democratic left parties, who did not oppose these measures, given their belief that a plan for the resolution of illegal immigration cannot fail to include the state’s right to use coercion.
Such norms help reinforce the atmosphere of hostility to immigrants and, above all, are profoundly unjust towards the millions of unregularised immigrants who spend years working and integrating themselves into society, hoping for an opportunity to have their status regularised.
It is also more than clear that neither the ‘Return Directive’ nor the ‘European Pact’ have realistic answers to massive and growing numbers of immigrants. For this reason policies such as regularising a certain group of people who meet certain conditions are not, and could not be, real solutions. On the contrary, it highlights the need to work for a far-reaching, real amnesty for all immigrants with unregularised status. This means everyone wins, both the immigrants and the countries to which they migrate.
The UN’s prescription
For almost two decades the United Nations have stuck by the International Pact for the Protection of the Rights of Migrants and their Families, but up to this day these norms have not been adopted by any EU country’s parliament. These international norms set the rights and obligations of immigrants and ensure their protection in terms of respect for their human rights. The United Kingdom should sign up to this international agreement without delay.
The proposals being debated
The “London Citizens” campaign “Strangers into Citizens” is a very important initiative, but in our eyes it has set its sights too low. Firstly, we must say that the Coordinadora Latinoamericana is not against this campaign – it seems like a valid project to us – but we are convinced that the reality the large swathes of immigrants live through demands much wider measures which truly account for the vast majority of the undocumented.
“London Citizens” proposes an “amnesty” covering people who have spend 4 years or longer resident in the United Kingdom. Those people who meet this criterion must go through a two-year “probation period” – which grants permission to work – time which the beneficiaries could use to find guarantors and work references. Besides these requirements, they must pass a language test and not have committed any serious criminal offence.
These “filters” such as the time of stay in the United Kingdom, the language test, and above all, not having a “criminal record” make this initiative exclusive and ineffective, totally twisting out of shape the meaning of the word ‘amnesty’. The vast majority of undocumented workers have had no opportunity to learn English, large numbers have entered the country with false papers, many have had serious legal problems trying to access social security, many have violated traffic laws and many others have in one way or another found themselves involved in some kind of penal infraction. For the immigration authorities, all these legal matters are considered a serious criminal offence, which is why a significant layer of people would not be able to benefit from the so-called amnesty being proposed. The majority of applications to the Home Office are by family group, and if one family member has a criminal record, a common result is that the Home Office will deny the entire family’s case.
Every day hundreds and thousands of immigrants come into this country, and even if we could count how many thousands have entered in the last four years, we have to conclude that these new immigrants also have no chance of applying for this amnesty.
Many undocumented immigrants, perhaps through being ill-informed, or through lack of knowledge, believing that this is a real “amnesty”, might present their applications and then be denied. Once this decision is taken, those same immigration authorities would at once use the information submitted by the applicant to track them down, arrest them and immediately begin their deportation proceedings.
It is very difficult to be precise about the numbers of immigrants in the United Kingdom. The Home Office thinks that there are half a million people, but we believe the numbers could easily be in excess of one million. The people who could ultimately benefit from the amnesty proposed would be no more than 20% of this section of the population. Once the amnesty places were exhausted, there would follow a real “witch hunt” against this large majority remaining outside of regularised status.
If we submit to this cut-down idea of amnesty, soon we would find ourselves faced with this large majority of immigrants subject to deportation back to their respective countries of origin. We would feel a collective frustration at having supported such cut-down, limited and exclusive proposals, and thus having become the executioner of our class brothers and sisters.
We know that it is not an easy fight and that governments are little-interested in immigrants, much at odds with their economic importance, but today more than ever we must raise our demand of a real amnesty for all, a true regularisation which would benefit 100% of immigrants in this country, who arrived here with the same hopes and dreams as the rest of us. We are going on the 4th May march with our own demand “Papers for all”, demonstrating our strength and organisational capacity, and denouncing the fact that we are treated like criminals just because we do not have the right papers. Immigration is not the fault of the people who are forced to emigrate from their own countries: truly responsible are the governments of wealthy countries like the United Kingdom, the big multinationals from such countries and the economic model organised and driven by these same countries, who, without any consideration for human beings, steal from and exploit our countries of origin, condemning us to poverty.
The Coordinadora Latinoamericana appeals to all documented and undocumented workers to act as a single force, in an organised way, to demonstrate our capacity for action and demand a real amnesty for all undocumented migrants in the United Kingdom. It is time to demand it, it is time for it to be done: no longer can these countries invest vast amounts of money to help the rich and at the same time have no policy for immigrants except that of expulsion. These countries’ well-being is significantly reliant on the contributions and labour of immigrants. We are not part of the economic crisis, we are part of the solution.