All candidate for London mayor support immigration amnesty

// 9 April 2008

Every single candidate for the London mayoral elections in May – even Tory Boris Johnson – supports an amnesty which would allow illegal immigrants living in the UK for four years or more to follow a “path to citizenship”, reports The Independent.

Last month Mr Livingstone called for a “fresh start”, with a one-off amnesty for migrants without “regular status”, in spite of his party’s stance. “Migrants contribute hugely to the economic, civic and cultural life of London and the UK,” he said. “To have a substantial number of them living here without regular status because of deep-rooted failings in the immigration system, some dating back over a decade, is deeply damaging to London as well as to them.”

This is really good news. And particularly timely given this piece on AlterNet by Jessica Hoffman, calling on white feminists in the US to wake up and smell their privilege, and get to work on issues that intersect with racism, including immigration. As Women of Color Blog and others have been documenting for ages, immigration is a feminist issue – and that doesn’t just apply in the US. Hoffman talks about how “women and trans and gender-nonconforming people are suffering gender-based violence at the hands of federal immigration officials”.

We know the same happens here in the UK.

The reason this is good news is not because one amnesty solves the whole problem, or even that it’s unproblematic. But the debate around immigration has been dominated by a right-wing, racist, xenophobic “keep them all out!” framing for way too long. I can’t even remember the last time I saw a policy on immigration which wasn’t about making the rules tougher. Here’s hoping this is the first of many moves towards reform.

Comments From You

Shea // Posted 9 April 2008 at 2:13 pm

Sorry Jess I have to disagree with you on this one, and I say this as a second generation immigrant. An amnesty is only a good idead where there is a clear benefit to society in the immigrants staying, i.e where they have training and qualifications in key shortage areas, or where they have a clear link to Britain (i.e through marriage).

Having looked at the House of Lords report I agree with them totally. Immigrantion from Eastern Europe has put a massive strain on resources and infrastructure (housing, health) and it hasn’t been the white middle class feminists who have lost out.

Alot of my friends work in minimum wage jobs, they now have to contend with the threat of competition for even those and employers who know they can get away without training them or paying a half decent wage. The majority of these women are poor white and asian women with very little in the way of qualifications or options. All that net immigration offers is the chance for employers to keep the threat of redundancy hanging over our heads and an excuse not to raise wages or benefits.

Julie // Posted 9 April 2008 at 10:29 pm

To reply to the comment above saying that “an amnesty is a good idea” only where there is a “clear benefit to society” i.e. immigrants who have “training and qualifications”

The vast majority of immigrants “legal” or “illegal” are doing essential work. They are the people who pick and pack the vegetables that you buy in the supermarket. They are the people who clean the floors and toilets of businesses all around the country. They are the people who work in the building trade. We should not fall into the racist trap of seeing immigrants as the problem. It is immigrants who work the longest hours, who get paid the least amount of money. In particular it is those who are deemed to be “illegal” who face the most vicious abuse from their employer. They often have their wages docked by the agency which employs them. They have no right to be represented by a trade union, nor are they protected by British Law. In Peterborough there are currently Eastern European workers employed to help pick and pack the vegetables that are grown nearby. These people are living in tents because they cannot afford the rent to live in a house! Many of these migrants earn as little as £36 for a 12-hour shift.

It is women “illegal” immigrants who face the most horrific conditions. They make up the vast majority of people who are trafficked into the sex industry. Giving “illegal” immigrants an amnesty would give them access to decent, safe employment. It would make it much harder for British employers to use immigrant labour as a way of undercutting workers’ pay and conditions. They would be forced to give immigrants the same deal as British workers, thereby protecting both groups.

It is our bosses whom we should blame for paying the immigrant worker less, they decide who gets hired and the rate that they are paid. The immigrant worker has no more say in determining their pay and conditions than a British worker.

It is the directors of big business, backed by the British Government who put a massive strain on resources. The rich benefit from huge tax breaks; they move their money all around the globe in order to avoid paying tax. And it is this Government who spends billions of our money bombing Iraq and Afghanistan, and bailing out major shareholders.

Shea // Posted 10 April 2008 at 12:08 am

I agree with the last paragraph, but I reject your argument that one- it is “racist” to see immigrants as a problem and two that they are doing essential work. Actually they are competing with native workers for those types of jobs, and I know because I have actually worked as a cleaner and shelf stacker. If it weren’t for the abundance of cheap labour, employers would be forced to raise wages and working conditions.

Illegal workers shouldn’t be employed at all. They don’t contribute anything in terms of tax or national insurance which pay for the health service and infrastructure, that comes out of the pockets of legitimate workers, like you and me.

We have something like a million people unemployed in this country who could be working in these roles and actually contributing something. Its fine if you have a profession that can’t be outsourced or your so well qualified that you have that kind of mobility, but if you don’t you re essentially screwed.

There is a more important wider point that we need a much more equal global society, instead of the unequal distribution of wealth we have now. But certainly we wouldn’t enjoy the products and services we do at the prices we do without cheap labour in the far east and the exploitation of peasant farmers in Africa and Latin America.

Its interesting that when immigration starts to impact on middle class professions like medicine –plenty of restriction begin to be made, as they have with junior doctor training, and the refusal to employ any doctors outside the EU for foundation year training.

Anne Onne // Posted 10 April 2008 at 3:57 pm

Sorry, She, we’ll have to agree to disagree.

Can we please not blame the victims? you can hate a system, and consider it unfair to all concerned (eg sex work), without victimising those at the very bottom. If they are working at such low wages to compete with UK nationals they are being exploited. Have you ever given a thought to what it must be like for them? It’s easier to worry about ‘us’ than look at the other side, the people we feel threatened by, and see that they have it worse. If you need to blame somebody, blame the companies. Not the people so desperate they’d work for pennies, who might be doing you out of a job.

Immigrants, legal and illegal aren’t fatcats. They’re not well off by any means. They have to contend with threats. They have less access to police or healthcare than we do. Little legal protection. It’s like they don’t exist in the system. They often work for very low wages. Just like sex workers, it’s not fair to blame them for existing, rather than the people that fuel their industry, who employ them.

You think about your friends and how they are undercut by immigrants. I think about how the immigrants manage to survive on the wages they are given (if they’re too low for your friends? The immigrants actually aren’t that different to your friends. The ones you have issues with are also likely to be people with few options, wanting to make a crust and survive. Once they’re here, however, why should we say that X person deserves basic human kindness, and the other not?

I understand what you mean about your friends. A lot of people feel threatened by immigrants, in part because thye’re in a bad position, they can’t see that somebody else might have it as bad as them, or worse. We need to help those in poverty. I agree wholeheartedly. Just don’t expect me to believe that anybody not born here doesn’t deserve to not be homeless, or not be forced into prostitution, or should remain under the radar (no healthcare, no police) for fear of being deported.

I refuse to pretend that these people aren’t people. Whilst they are here, they deserve help and basic services. It’s a problem that there may be too many people coming than can ideally be coped with, but it’s not their fault.

And whilst any one specific point about immigration may not necessarily be racist per se, the general furore around it, and most people’s gut reactions to it definitely are. There’s no way you can argue that one of the BNP’s leading platforms isn’t racist. Yes, they’re tapping into a general feeling people have.

If we deny it stems from fear and hatred of the other, we can’t deal with it. Wanting to keep somebody out because they are different is xenophobic. Feeling entitled to a job over somebody else because they are different is xenohpobia.

And being a second generation immigrant doesn’t give anybody carte blanche to be xenophobic, either. a lot of immigrants are anti-immigration, maybe because the more immigrants there are, the more crap they get for being an immigrant, and the more problems they personally face. It’s not acceptable to bash other women to get crumbs from the patriarchy’s table, so why should it be excused if you decide to bash other immigrants to agree with all the ‘natives’?

And as for not paying taxes- if they WERE on the system, which is what is being proposed with this amnesty, then they COULD. However, if their wages are so low, their earnings would probably be too low to tax (as in, they’d get it back at the endo of the year).

There’s plenty of UK nationals that don’t pay taxes, but funny how they’re never mentioned.

Also, yes we need global equality, and to improve conditions in their countries. But will that help those living here now?

So I agree that whilst this is problematic, and that there isn’t an easy conclusion to make everybody happy, that it’s a start on getting more rights and more care and mroe support for the invisible, for those most at risk.

Incidentally, has anybody heard of/watched the dispatches trilogy currently on about immigration. Scary. All these white middle aged men talking about losing their british identity and everything.

Anne Onne // Posted 10 April 2008 at 4:00 pm

Oh, and shea, it’s as racist to see ‘immigrants as a problem’ as it is misogynist to see ‘women as a problem’.

Seeing immigration as a complex issue, one where many people have complicated feelings that need to be addressed, and which has to be carefully managed is not racist. Seeing immigrants as people, as a ‘problem’ is.

Focusing on the victims rather than the system is not helpful.

Lynne Miles // Posted 10 April 2008 at 4:33 pm

Shea – “about a million” is actually more like 800,000, which is 2.5%. This is the lowest level of unemployment since 1975. Statistically, very few people are out of a job in Britain today because a job isn’t available (there are 356,000 unfilled vacancies registered with the job centre according to most recent figures). Of course you can have a whole discussion about what needs to be done about those who remain stubbornly unemployed, those who are ‘hidden unemployed’ but IMO lack of access to jobs is not the problem for either of those groups it is more complicated than that.

Take your point on low wages, though, although I’m not inclined to ‘blame’ other low wage workers for that.

Mo // Posted 10 April 2008 at 4:43 pm

I think Shea has got a point and is not writing from a standpoint of total ignorance. I don’t like the overreaction in the responses: it’s not acceptable to label someone racist or xenophobic just because you don’t agree with what they say – especially when the people doing the accusing are themselves busy painting all immigrants as pathetic, helpless victims. Is that not in itself racist?!

I personally know a lot of Romanian and Polish immigrants who are delighted to be working in the UK because the money they earn is a fortune compared to what they’d get paid for doing the same work in their countries of birth. They don’t see themselves as victims at all, they feel fortunate. But according to UK wage standards, yes, you could say they were being exploited. The only winners in all this are the employers, who have a vast pool of cheap labour to exploit.

Re. cheap labour: Last night I watched a History Channel programme about the Plague. I didn’t know this, but apparently one of the after effects of so many people dying was that the ones who survived grew better crops and had a more varied diet, had healthier children and for the first time in their lives were able to own land instead of being serfs to the aristocracy. I’m not suggesting we have another Plague! but something needs to change.

Some PEOPLE are a problem, and some of those people happen to be immigrants. Most of the criminals responsible for trafficking women, for instance, come from Eastern Europe and carry on their operations and gang wars in countries like the UK and Holland. That is a fact, whether you like it or not.

Jess McCabe // Posted 10 April 2008 at 4:54 pm

This thread seems to be becoming derailed. My post was not about whether immigration is a good thing (I think it is, but that’s a seperate issue really). It is about the gendered violence and abuse experienced by people who do not have the right visa to be in this country, and yet are still, funnily enough, human beings.

I don’t think that people in this country without the right visas are pathetic or helpless victims, not at all. But by nature of their legal situation, they are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. If you risk deportation for reporting a crime, do you report a crime? If you risk deportation if you’re paid below the minimum wage, do you report your employer?

Whether or not immigration into the UK puts pressure on jobs, etc, that does not change this dynamic, and allowing people a way out of their legal problems is a way to help curb this kind of abuse. In addition, there are economic and social benefits to an amnesty, as once a person is a legal citizen they must pay taxes, etc.

However, you mention Polish and Romanian migrants. Well, Poland and Romania are a part of the EU, and so citizens of those countries have as much a right to come and work in the UK as I do to go and work in Poland, in France, in the Netherlands, in Spain, etc. Therefore they are not here illegally.

Mo // Posted 10 April 2008 at 5:23 pm

Thank you, Jess, I am perfectly aware that Poland and Romania are part of the EU, and I did not say that the people I mentioned were here illegally. I was making the point that the wages in those countries are still a lot lower than in the UK.

The people I personally worry most about are trafficked women and girls; I think they experience the most gendered violence and abuse, and a lot of them still, outrageously, get deported if they come to the attention of the police and Home Office.

Anne Onne // Posted 10 April 2008 at 5:46 pm

Sorry, I didn’t mean to derail the thread, but I’d just like to defend myself.

I wanted to point out that immigrants, particularly illegal ones, have the least rights and are most vulnerable. Pointing out that they are much more likely to be victims, and suffer more when they are is not victimising them.

I did mention there was plenty of scope for discussion about the complexity of the issue, for example how we can smooth tensions between groups, and address everyone’s concerns, as well as try to ensure that all poor people get better conditions. I don’t think everybody who disagrees is xenophobic, because there may well be very different ways we can do this.

But I still think that reducing immigrants as people to being a ‘problem’ that should be somehow gotten rid of, indulging the ‘go back where you came from!’ attitude rather common these days puts the blame on the immigrants, when many of them are also suffering under the system as much as UK nationals are. Much as though I hate the idea of slippery slopes, I can’t see that much difference between somebody blaming immigrants and the BNP, who use these exact talking points and have the same lack of concern for the actual people involved.

I would agree immigration needs to be overhauled, and managed in a complex way. I think that there are other ways of discussing it, however, than framing the immigrants as the reason for every problem.

Your experience with legal immigrants, Mo, has nothing to do with illegal immigrants, and the fact that some immigrants are happy does not mean that others are.

Yes, some of the people trafficking the women are not from the UK (and I’m not about to defend them), but their johns are probably mostly British. That’s not forgetting that there are plenty of homegrown criminals, and brits willing to perpetrate hate crimes around. Crime is a problem, full stop, and

I pretty much agree with everything Jess has said, so I don’t have much else to add.

Unfortunately, I’m bad at writing short responses, and find it too easy to derail a thread by replying to every point, no matter how tangential that somebody posts, because it bothers me if it isn’t contradicted. Needless to say, this post is really supposed to be about how we can help the illegal immigrants who are suffering. Everything else is secondary.

Shea // Posted 11 April 2008 at 5:14 pm

I’m sorry to go back to this thread, but I think its really unfair that I have been labelled “racist” and “xenophobic”. These are terms that get bandied around and directed at anyone who expresses an opinion contrary to the prevailing political viewpoint.

I think the BNP would want me (and vice versa) about as much as a hole in the head! (I think its offensive to even connect me to them, I have nothing in common with the BNP and NF and I have been active in campaigning to keep them out of local govt in the North East). I do think that immigrants are a problematic issue, but I can’t blame them for wanting to better themselves, and I don’t think that I ever expressed the view that they don’t deserve basic human kindness or human rights. You make a massive generalisation in calling them all victims and exploited (no doubt you bring in sex workers to make an emotional plea, but this would be better remedied by criminalising the buying of sexual services, as in Sweden, who have very stringent immigration policies and a booming economy, aswell as being a very socially progressive country).

I have quite a few friends in London who are working in the UK illegally (mostly from Brazil and Latin America) and do so for precisely the reason Mo set out– that the pound is very strong and buys them alot more in their home country. They can afford to “survive” on less wages, because they are not here for the long haul. They aim to make as much money as possible and then leave, not to build a future in Britain. At home they are reasonably well off by their countries standards (and must be to afford the airfare here) but come here really to make a quick buck (one friend did this to afford plastic surgery FFS!). It runs counter to what you believe but I have seen it first hand. They take the risk they will be exploited, that is their gamble. I don’t believe at all that all immigrants are in that position, but I believe alot of them are aware that they will be taking that risk.

As for trafficking we need a real crackdown on traffickers full stop, handing down much much tougher sentences and and to help and support the women as much as possible (as we do the foreign wives of UK nationals who suffer domestic abuse). But that is as much as policing/justice issue and expecting the UK to police the rest of the world is just unrealistic; as is expecting the UK not to deport anyone with HiV/aids because of a lack of treatment abroad. Ideally we would be helping all these groups, but would you really be willing to put your hand deeply into your pocket to do so?

Because the money has to come from somewhere and I don’t see increasing taxation winning many votes. That also goes to the heart of my point about the strain on infrastructure, because if anything health service budgets have decreased over the past couple of years just as we have had a influx of new migrants, but the allocated budget is around the same, even with the new additions.

My family came over originally post WW2 to help in the reconstruction, and as Mo pointed out about the plague, it is because of the decimmation of the population that jobs increased, wages rose and the quality of living improved (not saying we need either a plague or a world war either), but limiting the amount of immigration just makes good sense.

I agree with you totally on the tax issue and global equality bit though.

Lynne– I diagree with you on unemployment (and I said “about a million”- is 800,000 really so far off?). The lowest unemployment figures are a joke, we have a lot of people under-employed (especially women) in low paying jobs they are far too qualified for. The unemployment figures are also massaged by the numbers in higher education, for which there is a substantial dearth of graduate jobs!

Anne Onne // Posted 11 April 2008 at 5:38 pm

I didn’t mean to suggest that you are anywhere near as bad as the BNP, or a raging xenophobe, and it’s clear you aren’t. But isn’t ‘everybody bandies these words around a lot, so I can’t say anything without being called politically incorrect’ exactly what many people say about sexism? It’s easier to feel the issues that most keenly affect us, but remembering how it feels when our concerns are downplayed can help us se how others might feel if we do the same to them.

However, I still believe that because the default position in society itself IS racist, xenophobic, misogynistic and anti LGBTQ, that the way we discuss things if we want to be progressive should be done very carefully, considering our privilege. It’s also that the prevalence of stronger versions of these talking points (those programmes, the BNP, just about any average local pub), and how insidiously racism and xenophobia can hide behind a seemingly logical mask, and that makes me extra wary of anybody using the same talking points, because most of the time, I have been right to suspect them of having a hidden agenda. Plus, you know, trolls exist.

So my objection was more about the manner of phrasing, and my belief that you lacked the sensitivity in addressing the issue. I still think the points are dominated by the xenophobic frame we as a society, but I respect your right to disagree. To be honest, I agree immigration needs to be regulated, but regulation means a lot more than completely closing the borders.

In this case, we were talking about protecting the vulnerable amongst the illegal immigrants who are least able to get help and services, and how this legistlation might help them, not about immigrants from the EU.

I called you out (and I stand by it, though the language stings), because I would want the same done to me. It hurts, because we are progressive, and such words carry a heavy negative association. But I believe that there is a difference in pointing out words are sexist/xenophobic, and claiming the poster is, because the former for me involves believing that the commenter is inherently progressive, and may have just made a mistake or not thought about wording or privilege. I’ve made mistakes like that in the past, and I have learned a lot from having it pointed out to me, though it’s never pleasant to have another progressive vehemently disagreeing with you.

In the end, we’ll have to agree to disagree, but it’s not personal. :)

Shea // Posted 11 April 2008 at 6:18 pm

Fair play Anne, I hate the way those terms are used to stifle legitimate debate, but I have seen “political incorrectness” used to level arguments against sexism repeatedly too, and that pisses me off, so I think your right on point with that one.

My earlier posts were clumsily worded ( perhaps misleadingly so), so I take on board what you said.

For what its worth- I think you are one of the most interesting & perceptive commentators blogging at the F word at the mo.

Anne Onne // Posted 11 April 2008 at 7:38 pm

Thanks, and ditto. When I’m not vehemently disagreeing about particular points, I find a lot to agree with in your comments in general, and plenty to provoke thought, which is more important than agreeing. It’s always a joy to read commentary from different points of view, and learn things I’ve never thought of before.

I’m just glad there aren’t many personal mudslinging-matches here, because all to often, it’s easy to miss a good chance for important discussion of divisive issues and get so involved in trying to get your view accross and defending oneself from attack, that a sort of wall develops, and both sides get hurt.

A lot of discussions are very personal, and we are all human, so it’s natural that there’ll be disagreements and people get rubbed up the wrong way, but it often snowballs from a simple disagreement into a huge rift with others picking sides and whole sections of feminist theory being pitted against each other.

I try to not get involved in slanging matches because it’s easy to lose your temper (Though I wouldn’t say we went that far, luckily) and the words can’t be taken back once out on the internet. At the same time, it’s part of writing about feminism at all that it is often personal, and that opinions can be very varied. I’m far from perfect, and know I get things wrong (harder to tell at the time, but hindsight is a good thing!), so I do think it important to be contradicted. So I can’t blame you for it … ;)

Also, I’m going to stop necromancing this post now, but I felt it important for there to be a sense of resolution, a chance for those who disagree to show that they can conduct it civilly. when random lurkers are looking through the archives, I’d like them to be able to say that disagreements can be concluded peacefully, and that whilst not every argument will be magically solved with complete agreement on all sides, we are able to recognise when people are trying to be allies and are basically tring to work towards the same thing, and not treat each other the same as if we were dealing with the worst MRA troll.

Unfortunately, I seem incapable of a short, consise reply.

z // Posted 14 April 2008 at 2:30 pm

the uk people or government talking over other country about hummuin wrights like in china or other countries.i was also think uk has the best hummiun wrights in the world but this is not true i see my self. in uk dog life is good then aslyum seeker. a dog has good tretment than aslyum seekers.aslyum living in phone boxes and they eatin from rubish bin how uk government talking about hummiun wrights.

Viz // Posted 18 April 2008 at 11:15 am

The right-wing media in the UK can mute any call for illegal immigrants in the UK.

The British are controlled by powerful media tycoons far far from this small island .

The only way for those shadow creatures is to outsmart the current system; other wise nobody -even God himself can help them.

Every single rat in politics will use their case to win more voters. whether they starve or die – that’s not an issue since they don’t have a single voice

EDDY // Posted 28 April 2008 at 1:52 pm


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