By Dave Stamp
Over the past few months, as the ‘hostile environment’ agenda has become ever further entrenched, we have become ever more astonished by statutory agencies’ apparently wilfully disregard for the well-being of the children of parents subject to immigration control.
We are becoming used to seeing the single mothers of children- frequently British children- threatened with police intervention to evict them from social service offices when they present, homeless and destitute, for assistance under section 17 of the Children Act. One woman, the mother of 2 children aged 1 and 7, was forced to walk Birmingham’s streets for the evening, having been unlawfully denied acccommodation and subsistence support by a Local Authority: happily, robust intervention on ASIRT’s part has now ensured a roof over this family’s head and the provision of basic subsistence support, but it remains a mystery to us why this family, and countless others like them, were forced to endure such degrading treatment before being provided with such modest support.
Nothing, however, has quite prepared us for the latest piece of correspondence from the Home Office, which applies the ‘hostility’ encouraged by the Home Secretary directly and unapologetically to a 7 year old girl.
‘Estelle’ is the single mother of ‘Jamila’, who was born here in Birmingham in 2007. Estelle has been in the UK since 2002. All of her other children, now adults, are lawfully resident in the UK, as are her grandchildren, to whom Jamila is close. Jamila knows no life other than here in the UK. Her schoolfriends and her entire extended family is here. She has been here for literally a life-time, and she knows nothing else.
As Jamila approached the age of seven last summer, Estelle approached ASIRT to help with the submission of an application to the Home Office to regularise her status. This is because law and practice in UK immigration law suggests that a child who has lived for seven years in the UK should generallly be regarded as having spent her formative years here, and that it should therefore be regarded as in the child’s best interests to be granted status to remain in the UK, along with her primary carer. When rewriting the Immigration Rules in 2012, the Home Office noted:
‘We consider that a period of 7 continuous years spent in the UK as a child will generally establish a sufficient level of integration for family and private life to exist such that removal would normally not be in the best interests of the child. A period of 7 years also echoes a previous policy (known as DP5/96) under which children who had accumulated 7 years’ continuous residence in the UK were not deported, which is still referenced by the Courts on occasion.’
Paragraph 7.6 of the Immigration Rules states:
‘The key test for a non-British child remaining on a permanent basis is the length of residence in the UK of a child- which the rules set at at least seven years, subject to countervailing factors.’
Essentially, then, Home Office guidance recognises that a non-British child who has lived in the UK for a continuous period of at least seven years will have integrated to life in the UK to the extent than any expectation that they should leave the UK is unreasonable.
One might therefore expect the Home Office’s consideration of Estelle’s application for leave to remain in the UK to pay due attention to such guidance, working from the essential premise that Jamila’s best interests are of paramount importance and that, in the absence of a public interest argument to the contrary, Estelle and her daughter should be granted leave to remain in the UK- paving the way for Jamila’s transition to British citizenship at the age of 10 and, potentially, a lifetime of contributing to Britain’s social and economic life.
Yet no such attention appears to have informed the refusal letter served on us in Estelle’s name this week. Instead- and genuinely quite shockingly- the decision-maker has written that:
‘It is noted that your client’s child has apparently enjoyed education in the UK at public expense. It is not acepted that the desirability of being educated at public expense in the UK can outweigh the benefit of remaining with your client and returning with her to her country of origin. Your client’s use of public funds clearly demonstrates that her presence here is damaging the economic wellbeing of the country’.
This, then, is the end result of the toxic anti-immigration discourse prevalent in the UK today: a child’s education comes to be regarded not as a basic human right, or even an investment in humanity’s future, but as ‘damaging the economic wellbeing of the country’. This is the hostile environment conjured into being by the Home Secretary. It is truly difficult to think of anything more mean-spirited or depressing.
It is evident to us that the Home Office has disregarded caselaw and its own internal policy guidance. We strongly feel that this refusal decision should be challenged and appealed against.
Estelle, however, has other ideas. After several years of poverty and precariousness, and a few months experiencing the misery of Section 17 Children Act support, she is now seriously considering the option of returning to her country of origin. While the Home Office describes this as a ‘voluntary’ return option, it is clear to us that it is nothing of the sort. Estelle and her daughter are effectively being starved out of British society, in breach of Jamila’s legal rights.
The direction of travel makes it apparent that this situation will get worse before it gets any better. The Home Office will simply continue to disregard the human rights of the children and families subject to its capriciousness, simply because it can. Cuts to legal aid make it ever harder for people in Estelle’s and Jamila’s situation to access anything resembling justice unless they can depend on the provision of not-for-profit advocacy services such as ASIRT’s. The need for our work has never been greater.
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