Here to stay: understanding the consequences of protracted legal limbo

Vanessa Hughes (COMPAS) and Michele Levoy (PICUM) at the workshop on ‘No way out, no way in’ at the House of Lords (Committee Room 1).

Having the opportunity to get feedback on the report ‘No way out, no way in: Irregular migrant children and families in the UK’ by policy makers, activists and civil servants was exciting. Baroness Hamwee, our host at the House of Lords, welcomed participants and expressed her support for the study that, she said, ‘brings back into the policy and academic debates on immigration the human side’. Debbie Pippard of the Barrow Cadbury Trust which funded the study expressed the Trust’s appreciation for the contribution the report makes ‘to detoxify the current debate on this issue’. The responses from PICUM, the Office of the Children’s Commissioner for England and the Children’s Society were overall very supportive and helped us to better locate the findings of our study in current policy debates. In her response, Michele Levoy (PICUM) focused on the similarities and differences among EU member states. She also noticed the lack of attention by policy makers to the best interests of irregular migrant children in families. While agreeing of the lack of interests for dependent children, Adrian Matthews pointed out that we see increasingly the ‘best interests of the child’ used by authorities to legitimise immigration control and to blame parents for putting children through the experience of ‘illegality’. Ilona Pinter (the Children’s Society)  praised the report for bringing to the fore the voices of migrant children and families, but also the frustration of social workers, teachers and healthcare professionals for the increasing pressure put by the UK Border Agency on their job. As a participant noticed: ‘social workers have become de facto immigration officers’. The general discussion explored the feasibility of linking current developments in the US (Obama’s decision to suspend deportations for young undocumented migrants) with the situation of undocumented children in the  UK. In my presentation, I stressed the reality that despite the trend of increasingly using deportation as a tool of immigration management, the large majority of irregular migrants, especially children, are likely to stay in the UK.  In conclusion, I expressed the need for reframing the debate on child migration in the UK and for considering not only the issue of rights, which of course is extremely important, but also the societal implications of keeping a genation of young migrants (over half of whom born in the UK) in a condition of permanent exclusion from citizenship.

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