Wednesday, May 19, 2010

On Nick Clegg's restoration of civil liberties - what about *legal* immigrants?

I heard Nick Clegg's 'Civil Liberties' speech today and thought it was great and confirmed for me why I voted LibDem:

Nick Clegg pledges biggest political reforms since 1832

I have a specific question, however, about something which doesn't get mentioned much.

Illegal immigration is one thing -- definitely an easy target during elections. As, well, cutting the numbers of legal immigrants from outside the EU has also been a popular issue during the election.

A question I have not seen answered yet is changes to how we will treat *legal* immigrants.

I am a recent legal immigrant to the U.K., having naturalized in February. Prior to naturalizing, I was resident in the U.K. on a Commonwealth Citizen of U.K. Ancestry visa (I was born in Canada and my grandfather was born in Glasgow).

What I noticed is that when I went to the (as it happened by accident because of the waiting times in London) Glasgow U.K. borders office to renew my Ancestry visa last time, some people were being sent to the fingerprint room, while others were not.

It appeared as those those of us applying for visas from 'white' countries didn't get fingerprinted, while those from 'brown' countries did.

Technically I believe it's because U.K. borders was rolling out fingerprinting to various groups, with student visas first, and ancestry visas somewhere near the bottom of the list, but the result was mostly as described.

I have always believed that fingerprinting is something we do to criminals. For example, I am completely opposed to spending my tourist dollars in the United States because of their fingerprinting regime, although Canadians are exempt from that program (probably because we simply refused as a country).

Initially the U.S. took only a single finger which it could be argued was for unique identification alone, but eventually they started taking fingerprints from all fingers, which is worrying as it does suggest they view all visitors as criminals. From what I understand, U.K. borders was going to begin sharing its own fingerprint data with the U.S.: UKBA to exchange fingerprints with US

The unwritten laws of guest friendship are the among the oldest we have as humans. Sadly they have been sacrificed in some countries out of fear for safety.

My primary concern, however, is this:

So much of civil society *works* only because we *expect* it to work. Many countries have written constitutions with strong provisions for civil liberties and freedoms. For example several of the former soviet republics adopted written constitutions and charters of freedoms similar to those found in established 'free' countries such as Canada. Nevertheless, magically adopting a constitution didn't create a free, open a stable society in these places. If a police officer stops your car in Russia today and demands a bribe, do you pay? Can you imagine what would happen if a police officer stopped your car in the U.K. and demanded a bribe? The difference is that we have in this country an expectation of freedom. I believe that civil society in the U.K. works because we expect people to obey the law, and people expect the law to treat them fairly. When, however, we start off our relationship with new immigrants to this country by expecting them to be criminals and fingerprinting them as such, I fear we have already damaged that relationship.

I look forward to hearing more about what the official Conservative/LibDem position will be on the clawing back of civil liberties for everyone who comes to the U.K., be they tourist, student or legal immigrant.

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