It was sadly poignant that the same day that Yashika Bageerathi was deported, UKIP leader Nigel Farage was trouncing Nick Clegg in a televised debate. The two things may seem unconnected – but they’re not, they’re intrinsically linked. Xenophobia rules the roost in the UK right now. The deportation of Yashika – and the death, just two days earlier, of Christine Case, in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Detention Centre – may look like tragic, individual events but they’re not. They’re what a ‘tough’ immigration policy looks like. Yashika’s case has been highlighted as particularly cruel, but to imagine that it is unique is naïve to say the least. All the hand-wringing over Yashika, important though her case is, misses the point to a great extent. We’ve build this system. These are the consequences.
Pressure has rightly been put on Theresa May and James Brokenshire over Yashika – because they could potentially have intervened – but there’s remarkable political consensus over immigration policy, which is even more depressing than the individual case. Labour’s response to the deportation amounted to ‘keep on going with the same policy but be nicer in her individual case’. The Lib Dems wrung their hands as they always do, but May and Brokenshire are ministers in their government, and this is their policy being brought into action. What’s more, they (almost all) voted through the effectively racist and authoritarian Immigration Bill in December – Labour abstained, which was tantamount to supporting the bill. ‘Toughness’ on immigration is pretty much the norm. Whether the major parties are supporting it ideologically, through fear of UKIP, through fear of the more rabid of the tabloids (the Mail and Express have a particularly poisonous role to play), because they have no principles and believe it to be electorally advantageous, or because they actually believe in this ‘toughness’ in the end doesn’t really matter. It certainly doesn’t matter to Yashika or her family, or to Christine Case, or to the large numbers of others suffering as a result of it.
What is clear is that almost no-one in the political establishment is challenging the ideas that underpin this ‘toughness’ agenda. The idea that immigration is somehow ‘bad’ or damaging. The economic case against immigration is flimsy at best – most of the evidence seems to suggest that immigration is essentially beneficial to the economy. The historical case is equally flimsy – we’re a country of immigrants, the product of wave after wave of immigrants and invasions, from the Celts onwards. The moral case, as exemplified by Yashika and Christine Case, is even worse. And yet no politicians from major parties even dare to challenge the current anti-immigration rhetoric to a serious degree. A few (notably the Lib Dems in a recent policy document) dare talk about the positives, but only with huge caveats and statements about making sure it’s the ‘right kind’ of immigration and so on. Mostly, though, the consensus is clear. Clear, xenophobic, and wrong.
Why is this? Can we shift the blame to supine politicians playing to the tune of the tabloids and the tabloids’ masters? I don’t think so. We’re complicit in this, and deeply. We’ve let it happen – I don’t mean at the detail level, and I know lots of individuals who have spoken up boldly and bravely about it, but as a nation, this seems to be the way we’re going, and what we seem to be accepting – and even applauding, if the enthusiasm for Nigel Farage last night is anything to go by. That is profoundly depressing, and we should be deeply ashamed.