21/11/2013 09:22 GMT | Updated 25/01/2014 16:01 GMT

Immigration 2: When the State Says Who Is Worthless

Immigration is a difficult topic matter to discuss. Even though most people accept that our economic and political systems would fail if there wasn't a policy to control immigration, many people have many different ideas on where the line should be drawn.

Last week, I wrote about how the media tells us that we're threatened by immigrants, regardless of whether that threat is likely, or even plausible. But this week, I'm turning the topic around, to talk about those who suffer most from our immigration system - the immigrants.

Immigration is a difficult topic matter to discuss. Even though most people accept that our economic and political systems would fail if there wasn't a policy to control immigration, many people have many different ideas on where the line should be drawn.

The people that decide where the line ends up are democratically elected politicians, who struggle to balance contemporary opinion on simple matters, let alone complicated ones. This was best proved during the Home Office's 'go home' van scandal, which received a bunch of complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority as well as several satirical hoax texts and calls.

So, where should they draw the line on who to let into our country or not? Most of us now accept that we should let certain professionals in, especially scientists, engineers, and doctors - as of 7th November, less than 40% of doctors were White British or Irish.

But Britain poses itself on the world stage as a place of equal opportunity, and how can we have equal opportunity if we don't let everyone in regardless of their perceived worth? This was the idea behind the now unpopular borderless European Union, where citizens from any country can freely travel to and work in any other country.

The problem is - and the main reason for the EU's unpopularity here - is the perception that, rather than working, people come here to leech off what is affectionately (or unaffectionately?) known as the welfare state. Whether that's accurate or not (hint: it isn't), I have a problem with the idea of the frequently proposed idea of means testing people to see if they are 'hardworking' or some other euphemism for socially acceptable (although I appreciate this already happens for anyone outside of the EU, Switzerland, and a handful of other lucky winners).

Firstly, our government has proved itself incapable of means testing people, or more appropriately for the coalition, selecting people to do means test people, in the cases of Atos' disability assessments and the student finance companies.

Secondly, even if the state was good at its job, why should it decide whether a person is worthy of living in this country or not? As much as the tabloids try to convince me otherwise, I honestly believe everyone still has some sort of intrinsic worth, no matter how lazy / feckless / criminal / stupid / uneducated they are, and they should be given second chances. The European Court of Human Rights seems to agree with me on this one.

As far as I can see, then, the most ethical thing to do practically would be to let anyone of any class, creed, education, wealth etc. in up to a certain number, which could be monitored every week, say, or every month if that would be impractical. That certain number would be calculated based on how many people entered the country in previous weeks or months, but also on how many had left - for which we would need some decent exit controls - the state of the economy, the amount of unemployment proportional to population, and whatever else the statistics boffins feel it would be appropriate to throw in.

tl;dr: a sort of first come, first served basis for immigration. Harsh, but importantly fair, and without the state having to make snap judgements about a person's usefulness and worth.

Of course, there would have to be exceptions for asylum seekers, much as there is under the current system. Here, the state goes one up on itself - it's not just judging whether somebody is worthless, but whether somebody is being threatened or persecuted enough to grant them asylum. Enough is the key word there, because the current system implies that some level of persecution is acceptable.

German magazine Der Spiegel produced two articles on the same day that, when read together, showed how strange current policy is. On November 7th, the German government refused to grant political asylum to Edward Snowden, certainly under threat from his former employers at the CIA; while the European Court of Human Rights insisted that LGBT people should be granted asylum throughout the EU from countries where homosexuality is illegal, a highly controversial move since in many cases there is no obvious way of proving that one is being persecuted because of it (one commenter claimed that "every african [sic] immigrant is going to claim that they are gay [because] there is no way to prove or disprove it").

A solution to this problem? In the short term, I suppose I don't really have one. If you do have one, I'd be interested to hear about it in the comment box below, and I'm sure the United Nations and a bunch of NGOs would appreciate hearing it too. We're tied into the European Convention on Human Rights and its Court's rulings, so we can't really turn round and say no to it in any case.

In the long term, however, the solution is obvious: we - on governmental, commercial, and personal levels - have to do more to combat persecution abroad (not that our own country is flawless). The same goes for immigration in general; we should be doing more to fight against inequality, poverty, corruption, and unemployment. After all, if our predecessors had done more of that, we wouldn't be having this problem, would we?

  • Some unfinished business from last week: the student union at Aberystwyth University banned the sale of the Daily Express on its campus because of its views on immigration, as I mentioned in last week's post. Is that right? Can institutions really censor the press because their management don't agree with their standpoint? Maybe I'll discuss that in the weeks to come...