Monday, 11 October 2010

When an "illegal immigrant" has the X Factor

I have confessed it before and I will confess again – I watch the X Factor, and I like some of the singers that have appeared on the programme. Along with quite a few other viewers (apparently 250, 000 have signed up to a relevant facebook site) I was taken, in the latest competition, by the brief performances of Gamu Nenghu, and was surprised when Cheryl Cole told her “I am afraid it’s a no”, and she was off the show. Whatever criteria were used it did seem odd that after three perfect vocals Gamu was eliminated in favour of others whose attempts seemed less polished. Maybe Gamu was considered not to have “pop star potential”, but there also seemed to be something odd in the way Cheryl C (or is it back to T now?) delivered the bad news. Then, as most of you will undoubtedly have heard, it emerged that Gamu and her family faced the very real possibility of removal from the U.K. to Zimbabwe, the country of their birth. There has been much speculation about the reasons for the threat of removal; this BBC report, quoting the family’s solicitor, seems to be accurate. 
The tabloid press must have had a pretty hard time with this, wanting to boost circulation by riding the wave of popular support for Gamu whilst also not wanting to stem their relentless tide of anti-immigrant propaganda. Some red-top articles have been sympathetic to the family, only to be followed by a tirade of “send-them-home” abuse in the readers’ comments section. I wish all the X Factor contestants well, but I would have liked Gamu to continue to hear more of her singing. But this is of course a triviality compared to the threat, to her and her family, of removal to Zimbabwe. So, just to do my bit, I will confront some of the arguments I have encountered on this matter: 

“They are illegal immigrants and should be sent back.” 

The family have been staying in the U.K. legally, on the mother’s visa. Her application for renewal of the visa was recently refused, but, as the family’s solicitor has argued, this is likely to be down to an administrative error. When the renewal was refused the family were given time to leave the U.K. voluntarily; to date this deadline has not been reached and so the family are still here legally. It also seems likely that there will be either an appeal or a judicial review of the case, and the family will then be allowed to remain, at least until a further determination is made.
It has also been suggested that the removal of Gamu, who has spent most of her childhood in the United Kingdom, would itself be illegal as a breach of both the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act. 

“Gamu should not get special treatment.” 

She deserves fair and humane treatment. Many immigrants are not treated fairly and humanely, as this excellent article shows, so this becomes an argument for improving the treatment of immigrants generally, not for removing Gamu and her family. The fact that many immigrants are treated unjustly is no argument for treating this particular family unjustly. The publicity and campaigning for Gamu may benefit immigrants generally by highlighting the injustices of “border control” and the immigration system. 

“Gamu’s mother is a benefit cheat.” 

This is not the view of the family’s lawyer, who said “...Mrs Ngazana [Gamu’s mother] was advised by the Inland Revenue that she was entitled to claim Child Tax Credit and Working Tax Credit and that it was aware of her immigration status.” 

There are, of course, many more general arguments relating to the immigration debate, covered by hundreds of thousands of web. A recent analysis for The Financial Times reached some conclusions that might come as a surprise to many: 

- The notion that natives inevitably lose out when immigrants take jobs was dismissed as “misguided”. 

- “Looking at the UK workforce as a whole, the rapid influx of migrants over the past decade has in fact had little impact on wages” (though where it has had an impact, the poor have mostly been the ones to lose out. Then again, “It is worth pointing out that many of those at the bottom end were themselves originally migrants). 

- “Despite lurid headlines about benefit scroungers, there is little evidence to support fears that migrants take more money out of the economy than they put in overall” 

- “Research by Christian Dustmann at UCL, a leading authority in the field, shows migrants from eastern Europe are putting far more into the economy than they take out” 

- Probability of natives claiming benefits: 39.7%.  Probability of immigrants from east European countries that joined the EU in 2004 claiming benefits: 16.4%. 

So, in conclusion, Gamu and her family should stay...and so should many others who have been branded as “illegal immigrants.