Episode 24: "We have a deeply unfeminist immigration system," with Zoe Gardner

Isabelle Roughol
Isabelle Roughol

Migrant women are at a higher risk of violence and abuse, often because of the State itself, explains immigration activist Zoe Gardner.

In this conversation, Zoe Gardner covers:

  • How immigration exposes women to a higher risk of violence and abuse
  • Why policing and immigration enforcement must be decoupled
  • WTF “no recourse to public funds” and the “hostile environment” are
  • How legal migrants are pushed into undocumented status
  • Getting your COVID vaccine even if you’re undocumented
  • The exodus of European migrants from the UK & the post-Brexit settlement scheme
  • How US immigration activists inspire the British movement
  • What a safe and constructive immigration system would look like

Show notes

00:00 Intro
02:18 "All women understand how all women have felt over the last week"
03:28 "We have a deeply unfeminist immigration system"
06:21 "It's by dividing ourselves that we are doing the work of the oppressor for them"
08:09 "MPs must put their vote where their mouth is"
10:32 "We feed the business model of the worst criminals in our society"
16:38 "The hostile environment extends into our NHS"
21:55 "Tens and tens of thousands of new undocumented immigrants in our country just overnight"
26:27 "If you make a mistake, you are out"
29:38 "The movement in the US is a real inspiration to us in the UK"
33:52 "People move. People have always moved. People will always move."
37:43 Outro

Sources & credits

When the clapping stops: EU Care Workers after Brexit. JCWI.
Migrants with No Recourse to Public Fund experiences during the Covid-19 pandemic. JCWI.
Migrants deterred from healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic. JCWI.
Estimating the UK population during the pandemic. Jonathan Portes and Michael O’Connor, Economic Statistics Center of Excellence.
More on the case of Osime Brown

Music by Ofshane via Youtube’s audio library.


Transcript

Transcripts are published for your convenience, but they are automated and not always cleaned up. Please excuses typos and occasional nonsense, and always check the audio before quoting.

Isabelle Roughol: [00:00:00] Hey listeners, it's Isabelle. Welcome or welcome back. If you're new or you haven't done it yet, do sign up for the newsletter at join.borderlinepod.com. You'll be alerted of every new episode, get transcripts, interviews, essays, and more. Just once a week. You'll have the option to become a member and support this work with this subscription as well, for which I would be super grateful, but otherwise it's free. Again, that's at join.borderlinepod.com. Okay, on with the episode.

[00:00:25] Zoe Gardner: [00:00:27] We have a deeply unfeminist immigration system that systematically puts women at risk of abuse.

[00:00:34] Isabelle Roughol: [00:00:44] Hi, I'm Isabelle Roughol and this is Borderline.

[00:00:48] It's been a tough couple of weeks for most women around me and for me too, to be honest. Right here in London, Sarah Everard, 33, was killed as she was walking home, in the heart of the city, doing all the things we're told to do to stay safe in a public space that is not, in practice, our own. A serving police officer was charged for her kidnap and murder. Sarah's killing sparked an outpouring of grief and anger as women everywhere shared stories of fear and violence.

[00:01:15] I wanted to address this on the podcast, and specifically talk about women who face double the discrimination and insecurity: migrant women, the most vulnerable among us. I called up Zoe Gardner, policy advisor at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, who's long worked on these issues. JCWI is the UK's oldest migrant aid charity.

[00:01:35] And then just as we were recording, in Atlanta, Georgia in the US, eight people, including six Asian women, were murdered. Again, grief and anger poured out. From the information made public so far, I don't see how you can call it anything but a racist and misogynist attack. This all made this conversation feel more urgent.

[00:01:54] Zoe and I talked about insecurity for women and insecurity overall for immigrants, how they have fared over the pandemic, about the hostile environment in the UK, the settlement scheme for Europeans and the reported exodus of foreigners from the country. But don't worry if you're not a British listener, there's plenty in there for you too. Unfortunately, a lot of these issues are quite universal. Here's my conversation with Zoe Gardner.

[00:02:18] "All women understand how all women have felt over the last week"

[00:02:18] I kind of want to start by asking what I feel like I'm asking every woman these days, which is: How are you? How, how are you taking this all in?

[00:02:26] Zoe Gardner: [00:02:26] yeah, I think like everybody else, I think all, all women understand how, how all women have felt over the last, week or so. We all know the same fear and we all feel the same anger as well. about how we're allowed to live in fear and how these women just like us have, have suffered, you know, what, what we fear.

[00:02:53] And it's been really, really difficult, I think for everybody. And there's been a huge outpouring of emotion, but I think what's, what's been encouraging at least in London suddenly has been to see how, how that emotion has been shared and has been brought out onto the streets and, and, and sort of transmuted into power or at least into a feeling of solidarity. and I hope that we can, we can take this moment of collective grief to, to move forward and to recognize our power as women as well.

[00:03:28] "We have a deeply unfeminist immigration system"

Isabelle Roughol: [00:03:28] Has this resonated with your work at all as well?

[00:03:32] Zoe Gardner: [00:03:32] Yes, definitely. It's, it's been really, aw I want to say interesting, but really, I mean, it's, it's been just disgusting in some ways to see some of the sort of political opportunism that has taken place around this horrific event. We know from our work at JCWI that women are treated appallingly in our immigration system and, uh, women from minority ethnic backgrounds and women with insecure migration status are treated as though their lives don't matter as much as other women and their protection from violence doesn't matter as much as other women. And, uh, to see politicians stand up in Parliament over the last week and, and recite these hollow words about their protection of women, when at the same time, there's a bill going through Parliament on violence against women that excludes migrant women from the protection of refuges and from protection services from domestic violence, is truly, really sticks in, in the back of my throat.

[00:04:36] we have a deeply unfeminist immigration system that systematically puts women at risk of abuse. Very often women depend for their visas on their partner, so if they leave an abusive partner, they risk losing their immigration status. Women with an insecure immigration status, if they go to the police, or the authorities to report violence, are more likely to become the victims of enforcement themselves. We don't have any kind of a firewall between police and immigration enforcement, so nobody who is undocumented can go and report being the victim of a crime, for fear of being torn away from their homes and potentially from their children.

[00:05:17] Women who have no recourse to public funds, which is a visa condition that is placed on almost all migrants for the first five or 10 years that they live in the UK and sometimes longer, and maybe we'll talk a bit more about the detail of that, but it basically means that you can't access most benefits. That means that migrant women's children can't get free school meals. It means that migrant women can't access refuges, like I say. and it, and it leaves people in poverty, a lot of the time and vulnerable therefore to exploitative work and to, uh, slum landlords, and all these other dangers that are compounded, in terms of violence against women.

[00:05:59] So it's been, it's been pretty galling to see the same politicians who have voted against, specifically against, amendments in that violence against women bill to protect migrant women on an equal basis, to then stand up and give us their hollow words about how they are all about protecting women from violence.

[00:06:21] "It's by dividing ourselves that we are doing the work of the oppressor for them"

Isabelle Roughol: [00:06:21] Is there a part of you that ever thinks, you know, "Oh, great, now everyone's paying attention because you know, this, this horrible thing happened to a white woman from the London professional class. but, but where have you been all along" kind of, kind of feeling?

[00:06:36] Zoe Gardner: [00:06:36] I, I very much understand people who feel that way. I think it is very, you know, noticeable that, you know, when it, when it's a woman, as you say, who is white, who is, who is privileged in, in numerous ways, and who, I suppose many parts of the, you know, women in, in UK media can sort of see themselves in, in a way that maybe they can't for a migrant woman or a woman of color or a sex worker, woman, or a poorer woman, then it, it gets a lot of attention. But I, I think that what's really important is to remember that when people's eyes are opened, that's actually a good thing.

[00:07:14] And even if people feel, you know, frustrated of "where were you then? Where were you then?" actually everybody has their own journey coming to, to activism and coming to engagement with these issues. And, if these last, you know, a couple of weeks have opened people's eyes to the, institutional misogyny and violence in the police force, has opened people's eyes to the issue of, uh, of male violence in our society, then we need to welcome those people who, who are joining us as allies and all stand together because it's by, you know. It's by dividing ourselves that we're doing the work of the oppressor for us, for them. and, and it's by standing together among communities of color, among migrant communities, among communities of all genders, all oppressed groups standing together, then, then there are more of us and then we are stronger.

[00:08:09] "MPs must put their vote where their mouth is"

Isabelle Roughol: [00:08:09] So what is it that you think could be done both from a citizen and an activist perspective, but also from a government side on, on building a safer system, specifically for migrant women and a, a more feminist immigration system, than than we have currently in the UK. Is it done better somewhere else?

[00:08:32] Zoe Gardner: [00:08:32] I'm not really sure about the feminist credentials of immigration systems elsewhere. I'm pretty sure that basically wherever immigration enforcement occurs, any oppressed group or more marginalized group, you know, it gets sharper and sharper towards the ends of the more marginalized groups. So it's the same story as how, you know, austerity punishes all parts of society, but women suffer more. Immigration enforcement punishes all parts of society, but women because they are, uh, suffering other axes of oppression also suffer more.

[00:09:04] but there, there are definitely ways, and actually at the moment, uh, as I've mentioned, there there are really, really concrete ways in which we can make a difference at the moment.

[00:09:12] So there's a few brilliant groups, including the Latin American Women's Resource Center, and some others, who are campaigning at the moment on the violence against women and girls bill that is currently in the Lords. They've had great success in the Lords to bring these amendments that would provide equal protection, uh, for migrant women. So basically that would mean that all refuges would have to provide services regardless of a woman's immigration status. It would expand, uh, the possibility of getting the right to remain based on being the victim of domestic violence, which for the moment is only available to a very small group of migrant women and, specifically excludes anybody with an insecure status again. and those, those amendments have been passed in the Lords. So now when it, when it comes back to the Commons, it's really important that the pressure stays on, to, to make sure that, you know, we force politicians who've made these grand statements about women's rights, uh, in the last few days to actually put their money where their mouth is and their vote where their mouth is, uh, which they're so bad at doing.

[00:10:12] But there's, there's numerous other ways of just continuing this conversation. And I think, uh, the 'no recourse to public funds' conversation is one that has been gaining attention this year finally. It's been, a condition placed on most visas for, for many, many years. Basically. What happened? Yeah.

[00:10:32] "We feed the business model of the worst criminals in our society"

Isabelle Roughol: [00:10:32] Let's get into, let's, let's detail what that means? Uh, because I think it's, it's foreign to people outside the UK, and I think even to most people in the UK, uh, what what that means?

[00:10:43] Zoe Gardner: [00:10:43] Yeah, this is, this is the antithesis. This is the proof that, uh, migrants don't come here to steal your benefits, right? Because the immigration system in the UK denies migrants access to benefits at all, until they have a permanent leave to remain, sorry indefinite leave to remain. And for, most migrants. That will take either five or in many cases, 10 years to obtain.

[00:11:10] So they are, migrants are kept in what is called a temporary status for often over a decade. That means obviously that when a crisis such as the coronavirus crisis happens and the pandemic happens and we've had lockdowns and all sorts of businesses have shut down and their workers have lost their jobs, if you have no recourse to public funds, you cannot access universal credit. You cannot get income-based job seekers allowance. So basically you're left destitute if you lose your job. Even if you've been working and paying tax and contributing into the system, for as long as you've been here, which may be, as I say, you know, a decade or more, you can still very easily be in this situation.

[00:11:51] And there's all these sort of pernicious little ways in which they make the situation worse. So, there is a mechanism to apply to get your, your 'no recourse to public funds' lifted and it's very difficult, and you have to prove that you are at the point of destitution, which is an extremely difficult thing to prove. And, when you can prove that, and even if you've lived in the UK for 10 years with no recourse to public funds, if you finally managed to get those conditions lifted, that will automatically reset the clock. And you'll go back to another 10 years of being a so-called temporary migrant in the UK before you can obtain indefinite leave to remain.

[00:12:28] So basically our immigration system places huge disadvantages on people who have classified as temporary, because that sounds reasonable. People who are just here for a short time, maybe they shouldn't have access to benefits straight away, you know, that, that sounds like a reasonable thing to say. But actually we impose this condition of being temporary on migrants for decades who are living, who are part of our communities, who have children here who are going to school, who can't access free school meals, like I say, who, who, who are denied, you know, crisis and emergency services such as domestic violence services.

[00:12:59] And it obviously, causes a huge amount of poverty, huge amount of hardship. We did some research finding that in the pandemic, migrants who had no, 'no recourse to public funds' who responded to our survey were 50% more likely to say that they were living in a housing condition where it would be impossible to self isolate because, obviously they're not entitled to housing benefit, which means they're more likely to be living in overcrowded and unsanitary housing. So this actually becomes like a societal problem for everybody. and people who have no recourse to public funds also think often that that means they're not entitled to go to the doctor or that they're not entitled to access sort of any services or even charitable help sometimes. So it becomes a really serious issue of, of deprivation and poverty among people who, who are part of our society and may have been here for, for a really long time. So it's a very, very brutal and cruel policy. And we're campaigning at the moment to have it scrapped.

[00:14:01] Isabelle Roughol: [00:14:01] Um. I feel like we should insist on the fact that these people are paying the same taxes. They're contributing to the systems that they're not allowed to draw from.

[00:14:11] Zoe Gardner: [00:14:11] Oh, absolutely. Even more so, in fact, because you know, you're taxed for even being a foreigner living in this country. You have huge fees on your visa applications, which are mostly profit for the Home Office. And on top of that, you pay an additional, uh, so-called immigration health surcharge, which is thousands and thousands of pounds for every visa renewal per person. So for a family of four, you know, you get into tens of thousands of pounds just as an additional tax for being a foreigner in this country. And then you're denied access to the welfare state, to the, to the safety net that we all rely on in times of crisis.

[00:14:50] Isabelle Roughol: [00:14:50] Hmm, it's something. I think that, people who, who aren't immigrants here and that I, honestly, my eyes have been open to because of Brexit as a, as an EU citizen, I suddenly became a migrant, the level of fees involved and the number of people who end up in unauthorized status just from not being able to afford the fees...

[00:15:13] Zoe Gardner: [00:15:13] absolutely. Yeah.

[00:15:14] Isabelle Roughol: [00:15:14] ... apply for the things that they're, that they're entitled to.

[00:15:17] Zoe Gardner: [00:15:17] Exactly. And, you know, as I say, because this temporary so-called status goes on for such a long time and you have to renew it over and over again. And every time you have to renew it, not only do you have to jump through all the criteria and all the hoops and put in this complicated application, but you also have to pay thousands and thousands of pounds, again and again and again. And, and quite obviously very often people aren't able to do that and they lose their status. And again, if these are long-term residents in the country with families here, which they so often are, then they're not going to leave. They simply fall into being undocumented and then they are subject to even more risk of exploitation and abuse because everything they do is then criminalized in this country.

[00:16:03] And again, like I say, they can't go to the police if they're the victim of crime. They can't report their exploitation in the workplace. They can't even rent a flat legally, so they become victims of trafficking and of slum landlords. And all sorts of cruelty and exploitation in our society. So we feed the business model of the worst criminals in our society by providing them with the perfect victims who have no escape.

[00:16:32] Sorry, it's very bleak. I'm always, I'm always very busy. bleek.

[00:16:38] "The hostile environment extends into our NHS"

[00:16:38] Isabelle Roughol: [00:16:38] Well, no, it's, uh, it's, you know, it's good to get a picture of reality. And I think what's really interesting is to sort of get that systemic picture of how things that might individually sound reasonable together work to, to create a system that, that people cannot, um, keep their head above water, essentially.

[00:17:00] Zoe Gardner: [00:17:00] Exactly. Exactly. So it's, it's the combination of so many different things. The fees, the no recourse to public funds, the income requirements for different kinds of migrants and, and altogether, it, it makes it a situation where people are vulnerable to abuse.

[00:17:15] Isabelle Roughol: [00:17:17] So you mentioned the pandemic. I'm curious how, you know, all these things combined in the past year and how migrant populations in the UK have have fared during COVID.

[00:17:29] Zoe Gardner: [00:17:29] Yeah. well, again, I'm sorry. The bleakness goes on.

[00:17:33] Basically we, we, what we know of course, and what people will have heard is that Black and minority ethnic people in the UK have suffered a much higher toll during this pandemic. They're more likely to have got, coronavirus themselves. They're more likely to have died. They're more likely to know somebody who has died. And that's to do with them having been on the front lines in, in, in, in disproportionate numbers. And we know that from that, that will correlate to a great degree with migrant communities. Obviously it's not the same.

[00:18:01] So it's hard to get a precise picture because obviously the immigration status of people who suffer from coronavirus is not recorded. But we know that the, the fact that minority ethnic people have suffered to such a great degree will have some crossover with the migrant communities. And we also know from our own research... so people talk about the hostile environment and your listeners from the UK may have heard this term and not be sure what it is. And, and others from elsewhere may not know about it, but... the hostile environment is a term used, was coined by Theresa May, our ex prime minister, and it's basically a collection of policies that are designed to deter, uh, migrants from public services.

[00:18:42] The idea is to make life so unbearable in the UK, that if you don't have a stable immigration status, you'll leave. there's absolutely no evidence whatsoever that the government or anyone else can produce that that actually works. But there's a whole lot of evidence that it makes people's lives miserable. And during the pandemic we've seen how this has had a serious impact on everybody's health and safety because the hostile environment extends throughout society, including into our NHS. And obviously our NHS doctors' job is to protect people's health. It should not be their job to check where somebody comes from and what, what, what entitlements they have and what their immigration status is. They're not border guards, but the hostile environment makes doctors into border guards because some categories of migrants are chargeable for secondary health care. And if you incurred debts with the NHS, then you can be denied an extension on your visa on that basis. So the data can be shared from the NHS to the Home Office and then immigration enforcement can, can come after you as well. So that means migrants are afraid of accessing the NHS. And that, you may, immediately have worked out is, is an extremely big problem for the entirety of public health in the context of a global pandemic.

[00:19:56] And what we've seen in our research is not only do obviously undocumented migrants fear going to the doctor and to the hospital. But actually even migrants with status fear going to the doctor and refugees fear going to the doctor. And again, especially people with no recourse to public funds, fear going to the doctor in case their data is shared with the Home Office and that leads to problems for them down the line or in case they may be charged. And they actually, in most cases, wouldn't be charged and are not at risk of deportation, but they're still afraid of accessing health care because of this hostile environment, because of this culture we've developed of fear for migrants to access basic services that they need for us all to function as a society.

[00:20:38] So it's an incredibly self-defeating proposal. And currently with the vaccine, the government has exempted the COVID vaccine from the charging requirements. But they don't seem to have bothered to let the GP surgeries know and informed GP surgeries around the country that actually you don't have to have a stable immigration status in this country to register with your GP and to get the vaccine.

[00:21:05] So it's important everybody who's listening here knows: even if your GP, when you go to register, asks you about your immigration status or your nationality or how long you've been in the country or any of those questions, you don't have to answer. You don't even have to provide an ID or proof of address. So undocumented migrants can go and register with their GP and not give any details that would then put them at risk at a later stage. But they don't know that. And they've been fed this whole big line about how it's the National Health Service, not the international health service. And so have the workers who work in GP surgeries. And so they think they need to ask for this information and migrants think that they would need to provide this information. And so they stay away. And there's lots of evidence to show that this is actually detrimental to our public health in the long term.

[00:21:55] "Tens and tens of thousands of new undocumented immigrants in our country just overnight"

Isabelle Roughol: [00:21:55] Wow. Uh, sorry, you just made me, made me quiet for a minute. what about the impact on, on work? There's been this headline number that's been shared a lot, this research showing maybe up to 1.3 million migrants in the UK have left during the pandemic, mostly Europeans, mostly from loss of jobs. And I, and I talked to the researcher on this and it'll be on the podcast later, but obviously that, that headline number is very much an upper bound and it's probably less than that, but, but still, there does seem to be a significant emigration from migrants due to the pandemic. Is that something you've seen as well?

[00:22:37] Zoe Gardner: [00:22:37] I think I'd be cautious to say that I've seen it, but I've definitely heard about this happening. And I think that it's, it's natural. you know, a lot of EU migrants in particular employed in the hospitality industry, which has been closed down for obviously months and months, they may have thought it made sense to stop paying their London inflated rents, and go and stay at home with their family and lock down with their family back, back in, in whatever country that they're from in Europe.

[00:23:02] I emphasize Europeans because Europeans have obviously benefited from free movement and the flexibility that that allows. And so the assumption that they will have had of course, would have been that they can go and they can come back and they can come back at a later date. But actually, if you, if, if they had only presettled status or had not yet applied for settled status... and settled status, so now that we have Brexited, all EU migrants who live in the UK have to apply to stay legally in the country, because of that. And they have to apply by the end of June. and if people who did not already have a settled status left, there's a time limit on how long you can actually spend outside of the UK before you lose your right to return. And so for some people that that may have happened, and that might mean that they can no longer come back to their ordinary lives in the UK, on a legal basis. Or it also might mean that people have lost, or will lose that opportunity to actually apply for settled status. because the government has this hard deadline coming up at the end of June and if people haven't applied by that date, then they, they will become undocumented and they will be subject to all of the hostile environment policies that I've been talking about and they may be subject to deportation and detention.

[00:24:23] So it's a really, really serious issue that, you know, if you are employing an EU migrant who hasn't applied for settled status on the 1st of July, then, you know, you may be committing a crime yourself, right. And, and the government is giving us absolutely no answers as to whether they're just going to expect people to leave. Like what are they going to do with the people who inevitably, because with any systems such as this, inevitably, some people fall through the gaps. And we've done some research looking at EU care workers, and we found that there was really staggering levels of people who didn't know that they had to apply to the settled status scheme, or they didn't know that there was a deadline by which they had to apply.

[00:25:05] And so this deadline is just this arbitrary cutoff point after which, you know, potentially tens of thousands of people, maybe even a hundred thousand people... It depends how many people they reach, but there's a lot of EU migrants in the UK. So even missing out on a small percentage, could mean, you know, tens and tens of thousands of new undocumented migrants in our country just overnight, which is absolutely insane. it's just, it's just absolutely no way to run a country. You can't... just snatching away people's rights like that is just so detrimental not only obviously to the individuals themselves who, who may grow up and suddenly realize that they can't get work legally, but also just for the country as a whole. It's, it's absolute madness to suddenly deny so many people, uh, a legal status in the country.

[00:25:53] So, another campaign that we have at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants is to, to get rid of that deadline because you know, people are going to be left out. and we work with undocumented migrants all the time and the struggles that they face are horrendous. And our system for allowing people to re regularize their status and to get a legal status again is so difficult and so expensive and so time consuming. It's just mad to have this deadline after which so many EU migrants will be at risk.

[00:26:27] "If you make a mistake, you are out"

Isabelle Roughol: [00:26:27] Hmm. I think, I've spoken about this too, to a lot of British friends and I think the narrative that's out there is, you know, "Oh, Europeans are fine as long as you were here before, you know, the 31st of December. Like, your rights are maintained and you're totally fine. And it's not really going to change all that much." And the reality of course is actually, it's much more complex than that. And, uh, having been through it myself and literally doing this as my job, of looking into immigration issues, it's incredibly complex. My own status is confusing to me. and I've read and I've read all the documents multiple times. So yeah, I think it's, it's fair to imagine that a number of people are going to be left out.

[00:27:12] Zoe Gardner: [00:27:12] Yeah. And I think it sort of goes to what, what we were talking about before about sort of, you know, some people waking up to an issue. Your British friends, they're not imagining EU migrants could be anything other than sort of white middle class professionals. Like actually, there, there are all sorts of, uh, EU migrants in this country, including many who are disadvantaged in many ways. People with disabilities, people with, uh, who have been growing up in care, people who are elderly and, and, you know, not online and isolated from news updates. You know, there's all sorts of different groups of people. Just people living in poverty, who don't have a high level of English, who don't so easily understand the system.

[00:27:54] And so there's, there's a real, huge amount of risk, even if it's only those people who are more vulnerable. Somebody like you, who, who, I'm not diminishing, you know, the fact that you've had to apply for your right to stay in your own home, and it's been a complex system, that is bad enough. But actually for a lot of other people, you know, you have to try to imagine what it's like and, and how this system has been sort of developed piecemeal over time. It's not a coherent immigration system. It wasn't planned out. And what it has become is this absurd labyrinth, which is incredibly complicated. And most people need legal advice just to maintain their visa every time that they need to extend their visa, right? Because it's, it's really complex and difficult to do by yourself. And if you make a mistake, you are out. You have spent that money and you have no status. And that can utterly destroy your life.

[00:28:45] And we see it at JCWI, we see it all the time. People who have made the most banal mistake, filled out the wrong form, sent the fee that wasn't updated because they put the feet up again last month and they didn't know or whatever, and they have lost their status and become undocumented for years and years and years and lived under the radar, outside of the protections of society, because of one dumb mistake.

[00:29:07] So the system is actually extremely complex, and, and yes, which is a brilliant thing, Europeans up until now have been protected from that, but now that they are coming into that system, I think we really need to use that understanding that suddenly so many people are gaining that actually, oh my gosh, the immigration system is really bad if you don't have free movement. We need all those people who have come to that realization to, to join us in our fight, to do massive reforms of the immigration system for everybody.

[00:29:38] "The movement in the US is a real inspiration to us in the UK"

[00:29:38] Isabelle Roughol: [00:29:38] Mm. One group that I'm particularly concerned about is children, because you need to, under the settlement scheme, you need to apply for children, which probably a lot of parents and guardians and whoever's in charge of these kids, don't know. And, uh, you know, we've seen the Dreamers situation in the US, and I wonder if we'll we'll have the same here in, in 10 years or 15.

[00:30:02] Zoe Gardner: [00:30:02] Yeah. I mean, we have not had birthright citizenship, which at least they do have in the US, since, uh, 1981. Birthright citizenship was removed in the UK on the basis of like, you know, explicitly racist series of immigration acts that were designed to limit the number of, the so-called new Commonwealth, for which read nonwhite Commonwealth countries, for their populations to move to the UK and to establish themselves here.

[00:30:32] So yeah, even, even, you know, you can be born in the UK and be a removable undocumented migrant, even if you've never left this country. And you can have been brought here by your parents or by your guardians when at a very young age, and they didn't renew your status and you don't even know you don't have status until you try to go to university or until you tried to get a job and then suddenly, you can't, you can't show them that you're entitled to actually be in this country at all.

[00:31:02] And, and we see this all the time, with these deportation flights. And we have deportation issues. There's the case, uh, at the moment, that's ongoing of Osime Brown. He's Jamaican by nationality, he's lived in the UK since I think he was four years old, he's learning disabled, and he was involved in a nonviolent crime. And because of that, he's facing deportation to a country where not only has he no connection whatsoever, like he is British, you know, he's from Birmingham, he's, that's where he belongs. But he can be picked up and, and, and cast out.

[00:31:37] And I think that what we're seeing in America, you know, they have birthright citizenship. They also have a much stronger movement than we do have here in the UK, for the rights of undocumented migrants. And undocumented migrants have a voice, uh, and here in the UK, we don't even talk about them at all. It's conflated with asylum seekers, which is not at all the same thing. And we, we don't talk about the fact that our farms and our shops and our factories and, and, our healthcare system, all of these depend on the labor of people who had denied any status whatsoever. So, the conversation in the US is currently, especially with the Biden's proposals for large large-scale regularization, really an inspiration to activists in Europe, I think. We are looking up to the movements in the US, which are very much also being led by people who are in the circumstances themselves and have experience with being undocumented themselves. And it's a very inspiring movement that has achieved this huge program of regularization, put forward by Biden. Now, obviously we'll see how much of it passes through their legal system. But, I think that that's a real inspiration to, to us in the UK at the moment.

[00:32:52] And even other parts of Europe have significantly better regularization systems than the UK. And I'm sure I'm sure that anybody who's listening in Europe who knows about their systems for regularization will say "what? You know, we treat, we, we treat undocumented migrants terribly. They have to wait for years to regularize their status." Yes, that's true. But they wait longer here in the UK. In France and Spain and Portugal, if you're in work and you've lived in the country for sort of three to five years, you can generally submit a claim to regularize your status. Now that's not enough, but if we could get that far in the UK, it would be amazing because if, if you're basing just on long residence in the UK, as an undocumented migrant, you have to have lived here for 20 years before you can apply to regularize your status. 20 years. And then you'll be on a 10 year route to indefinite leave to remain. So people can live in this country for as long as I've been alive before they are entitled to a settled permanent status. It's, it's in desperate need of reform.

[00:33:52] "People move. People have always moved. People will always move."

Isabelle Roughol: [00:33:52] So, how would you reform it? I want to end this because you know, it's been bleak, I want to on... No, no, it's it's reality, but I do want to end on, on maybe something, something hopeful. Pie in the sky, what's the dream immigration system that you picture, that that would work, and that would be fair, and that would remove this permanent insecurity that migrants are kept in?

[00:34:26] Zoe Gardner: [00:34:26] The key thing to know, the key sort of message that we want to get out there is: people move. People move. People have always moved. People will always move. None of the borders, none of the militarization, none of the brutality, none of this awful Kafkaesque immigration system has ever prevented people from moving. It has ruined lives. It has destroyed lives. It has killed. But it has never prevented the basic fact that people move. And we need an immigration system that recognizes and works with that and manages that, rather than one that tries desperately to stop that because it will never, ever, ever happen.

[00:35:04] My dream immigration system is, is a long way off, but there is reason to be hopeful. We've seen that in the last few years, immigration control and enforcement has dropped drastically down in the list of the public's priorities. People are not concerned about keeping people out at the moment anymore. No matter what Nigel Farage tries to tell you. So we have more support than ever, and we have really, really clear campaign goals from some really great actors across the immigration sector, including us at JCWI, for how to reform the system.

[00:35:38] So I'm currently working on a piece of work that is calling for an end to this 10 years until settlement, right? We're calling to cut that down to five years with automatic renewal, reduce the fees to the cost price. So you pay how much it costs to administrate your application and not give, you know, 10 times that in profit to the Home Office. Cut that down so that more people can get a stable immigration system and less people are made undocumented. A five-year route to regularization for anybody who has fallen through the gaps. And scrap the hostile environment, get immigration enforcement out of our hospitals, out of our workplaces. Provide a firm firewall between all police services, all security services and immigration enforcement, so that people are safe to access services.

[00:36:30] And then what we'll see is a community who is not, that is no longer held back and, and forced into poverty, and that is able to flourish and, and do the wonderful things that immigration brings to our lives. The mixed families, the cultures crashing into each other and, and creating these incredible new and exciting, uh, cultural outputs. You know, London in particular, but the UK definitely as a whole has become everything that it is and everything good about it through this fantastic, uh, mixing of cultures, through this relatively open and diverse and ethnically integrated culture that we have. And, and, and, and harnessing the power of that and lifting up people so that they're not held back by their immigration status and can just fulfill that potential is, is a dream that is actually achievable with, with sensible common sense reforms of the immigration system.

[00:37:25] Stop making it so draconian and so cruel. We need some, some bravery from some of our leaders, but it can happen. It really can. And everybody needs to raise their voice who wants it.

[00:37:36] Isabelle Roughol: [00:37:36] All right. Well, thank you so much for sharing all this and chatting with me today. I appreciate it.

[00:37:41] Zoe Gardner: [00:37:41] Thanks for having me, Isabelle. It's great.

[00:37:43] Isabelle Roughol: [00:37:44] The reports Zoe Gardner cites will be linked in the show notes and are on the JCWI website. Thanks to Zoe for her time and to Callum on Twitter for the connection.

[00:37:54] A reminder that if you're an EU citizen in the UK, you must apply for settled status for yourself and for any children or vulnerable people before the end of June. And don't leave it to the last minute. Go to gov.uk/eusettledstatus.

[00:38:09] Happy new year to the many new Iranian listeners of Borderline. It was great to see you all show up for Selda's episode last week. If you're new to this, or you just haven't done it yet, do sign up for the newsletter at join.borderlinepod.com, and then consider becoming a member and helping me continue this work, telling the stories of defiant global citizens. I'd be much grateful. It's at join.borderlinepod.com. Others are doing it. Welcome this week to Femi Agbabiaka, Jim Morrison and another anonymous new member.

[00:38:38] I'm your host, Isabelle Roughol. Music is by Ofshane. Borderline is a One Lane Bridge production.

[00:38:46]

PodcastPoliticsImmigration

Isabelle Roughol

Journalist. Founder & host of Borderline. Former international editor of LinkedIn, foreign editor at Le Figaro, reporter at The Cambodia Daily. Global soul, messy accent.


Find the podcast & listen now

Find the podcast & listen now