We live under a system of Orwellian immigration laws with hostility baked in
How deeply ironic that at one of the most dysfunctional periods in living memory a German-born, Scottish psychiatrist should find herself subject to an interrogation of her settled status.
Eva has lived in Scotland for over 25 years, is married to a Scot and has given birth to three children here. She is a psychiatrist who works for the NHS and she has, literally, helped create a more stable Scotland.
She supported remain, but has then been tested on her ability to stay.
And even though, professionally, she is trusted to interpret the tangled minds of troubled Scots, she has been humiliatingly tested on her ability to even speak our lingo.
For a committed European whose childhood was spent in East Germany, and who believes firmly in the European project to spread peace, unity and in working collectively for the greater good, the indignity of having to prove her attachment to the country she has been proud to call home has rocked her to her very foundations.
And far from reaffirming her desire to be part of an integrated Europe, or to give her loyalty, her efforts and her taxes to a country which has then asked her to prove herself to it, the system designed to prove her settled status has left her deeply unsettled.
The arbitrary cruelty of the government’s hostile environment policy, of which settled status is a product, is well rehearsed on these pages, but there is a danger in believing it impacts only on others, more specifically, those immigrants from outwith the EU.
But this abhorrent treatment is not just confined to the Windrush generation, whose plight has put in sharp focus the cruelty of a Home Office intent on making life as unbearable as possible for those that want to make Britain their home.
We live under a system of Orwellian immigration laws with hostility baked in, that largely finds immigrants guilty until they can prove otherwise. It can deny them healthcare, housing and the right to work unless they can produce the right paperwork, and if they cannot, it ties them up in mindboggling bureaucracy and threatens them with removal.
It forces doctors, landlords and employers to become spies and while it has denied new mothers a right to free medical care, it sends official letters to babes-in-arms warning of their mother’s insecure right to stay.
Our immigration laws are inconsistent, incompetent and mendacious.
But at its heart is a desire to roll-up the ‘Welcome’ mat and shut the door to foreigners.
And make no mistake, after Brexit, these rules will apply equally to Europeans as much as they do anyone else.
The recent immigration white paper confirms that there will be no effort to make the current system fairer, more transparent or less perilous. And analysis of the government’s ‘settled status’ trials suggests that hundreds of thousands of EU nationals will be left without papers.
They will find themselves in the same Kafkaesque position as the Windrush generation were when the right to free movement from the Commonwealth came to an end.
This pending crisis promises to dwarf even that of the Windrush scandal and that makes people like Eva very scared.
She says she has become just a number and finds herself looking at people in the street, in the shops and even in her clinic, and wondering, ‘did you vote to make me go?’
Immigration played a pivotal role in the EU referendum campaign, with politicians like Nigel Farage whipping up support by appealing to the lowest common denominator and using the anxieties of others as a weapon to load his gun.
Even now, we have key Leave proponents like Boris Johnson telling bare-faced lies about what he did or didn’t say about immigration. But he won’t be allowed to forget Turkey.
Brexit exposed a dark seam of xenophobia and racism. It has helped to legitimise the views of the small minded and ignorant and allowed fascists to feed on the fears of those that believe immigration is the cause of all ills.
Scotland needs immigrants, and while I can quite understand the argument that when tested, we might not be any less tolerant than other parts of these isles, it is also true to say that we did not vote to leave the EU. There has been an outcry at the prospect of EU citizens living in Scotland being forced to leave, such that the Scottish Government, so alarmed by the prospect of what our First Minister called a “grotesque” application process, has said it would pay the fee for any EU national affected and working in the NHS. That proposal was quashed by the UK Government, which deemed it illegal.
EU nationals have been pawns in Brexit and if proof was ever needed, it was in the swift U-turn Theresa May made on that £65 price tag she had hung around their necks.
A policy announced just before Christmas, amid glossy advertising depicting smiling foreigners loving life in the UK and inviting them to apply to stay, triggered a torrent of criticism for its sheer insensitivity. And just 14 working days later, the Tories, under pressure to change their Brexit plan, scrapped it.
It was a perfidious ransom being placed on EU citizens living, working and contributing to their home in the UK and should never have made it into policy.
The Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, once famously described the settled status scheme as ‘easy as applying for an LK Bennett loyalty card’. For Eva, creating a central register of one minority group – EU citizens – does not create loyalty, it sets them apart, invites hostility, creates resentment and is proof positive that the lunatics have well and truly taken over the asylum.