Last week the House of Commons held a general debate on the issue of immigration. This provided a welcome opportunity to address the very real concerns that the British public is expressing about immigration. There has been a tendency in recent years for mainstream political parties to run scared of addressing it - indeed it was telling that with the exception of the Labour front bench, all the contributors were Conservative members.
The failure of mainstream political parties to properly tackle this subject in debate has led the public to conclude that we are out of touch with their very real concerns. Furthermore, that failue has left a vacuum which parties with more sinister motives have been only to happy to fill.
I am proud of this country and of the liberties we enjoy. I am proud that we give a safe haven to those fleeing persecution. I am also proud that Britain is seen as a beacon of freedom and opportunity and that so many people would wish to pursue their lives here.
But the simple truth is that we have allowed levels of migration beyond the point that our society can manage. This brings with it a risk to social cohesion and risks the liberal values that we as Britons take for granted. I cherish those values most dearly. Without a mature debate in this country about the consequences of immigration we will cede the ground to nationalism.
In my experience this is not an issue which divides communities on the basis of race - unless that is that the only people addressing it are those with racist values. In my experience some of the biggest critics of the way migration has been handled are our established ethnic minority communities who are fully integrated into society. The problems associated with immigration are about volume and criminality, not race
This government is taking steps to limit legal migration, but the tools they have employed will have limited impact on those who are happy to break the law. Of the 200 cases I have handled since becoming a Member of Parliament, half of them relate to people who have broken the immigration rules in some way and have no right to remain in the UK.
However few of them actually leave. I have cases going back 10 years. If the application is rejected they just disappear and resurface with a new application. I believe that the government needs to do more to improve enforcement. I also believe that the government needs to review the operation of the Human Rights Act which is getting in the way of the UK Border Agency doing its job.
I have one lady who entered the UK in 1992 with a counterfeit passport which she used to gain employment. She stayed and put in an application for leave to remain in 2006 which was refused. She reapplied in 2010. This lady has never had any leave to be in this country so I ask why is she still here, particularly when she has been found to have used false papers.
The Great British public do understand that any measures that government takes to curb immigration cannot tackle the numbers coming from the EU. It is this migration which cause them most concern, particularly the impact on jobs. I am also concerned at the opportunity for benefit tourism on the part of EU nationals.
Freedom of movement under the EU not only allows for uncontrolled migration from EU
member states, it also opens up new avenues for abuse when added to the Human Rights Act.
The Human Rights Act and the right to a family life has fuelled the idea that all you need to do is have a baby and that you get to stay. But of course the right to a family life does not require a baby. I had one chap who was given leave to remain because of his Eastern European fiance. And it becomes more certain if there is a spouse. The UK Border Agency has recently had some success in tackling sham marriage which is welcome, but it illustrates just how widespread this abuse is. It is now so common and concentrated in particular register offices and churches, as to suggest that there are some people making a lot of money out of this.
Many voters believe that migrants are coming over here to live off our benefits. I try and reassure them that is not the case, but there are too many cases of benefit fraud and illegal activity, all of which indicate that there are many people here who shouldn't be and who are taking Britain for a soft touch. This must not be allowed to continue.
Recently we had a case of a Morrocan immigrant who claimed to be an Afghan Asylum seeker who managed to claim over £400,000 in disability benefits, not to mention carers allowances for members of his family. He was caught for benefit fraud, having been witnessed dancing at a wedding but was subsequently found to have been here illegally. Having convicted him, he should be deported. It exasperates me that the taxpayer continues to foot the bill for this man.
He is incarcerated in a British prison having appealed against deportation under the Human Rights Act.
The case illustrates that bogus asylum claims are another route to entry. The system cannot establish the veracity of claims soon enough. The backlog of asylum cases means that now many of whose asylum claim has not been upheld are applying for leave to remain on Human rights grounds, due to the length of their stay. I have one constituent who arrived here in 1999, had his asylum claim rejected in 2000 but last year he made an application for leave to remain on human rights grounds due to long residency in the UK, despite the fact he had no entitlement to be here. This is treating the British legal system with contempt. It also illustrates that death and destruction are just another opportunity for those people determined to get into our country and exploit our goodwill. But more depressing is the impact that has on genuine asylum seekers and the sympathy with which they are viewed.
And some of our European neighbours are fuelling this resentment by their failure to do their bit to support refugees.
One lady and her three children risked life and limb to get to this country in the back of a container. It was the final shift at Tilbury before Christmas and the team were about to knock off when someone said just one more. Unloading the container they found, frozen within inches of their lives, this lady and her three children. They are lucky to be alive. But this lady had passed through France and ought to have been returned there. She I am advised that she is now living in a flat in Bristol
Many who come to see me have been here illegally for a number of years. I ask them how they are supporting themselves given that they are not allowed to work. Friends and family they say - I think it a fair assumption they are working illegally. My constituency includes the Port of Tilbury where there is a line of business exporting second hand cars. A number of these have been found to be trafficked by illegal immigrants, but it is impossible for the authorities at the port to check every single one.
Quite often the Border Agency simply lose touch with them. We therefore cannot begin to quantify with any accuracy the number of people who are here who should not be. There are some clear failings on the part of the UKBA, but I do believe they are overwhelmed by the size of the task and undermined by bad legislation. The Human Rights Act is getting in the way of them doing their job.
So I hope the government will review the Human Rights Act. Until then the Border Agency will be fighting illegal immigration with one arm tied behind its back and public concern about immigration will remain.