The little purple book of health

I had to chuckle as I listened to Radio 4 last week. Not because immigration law being broken is in itself funny (although…), but because of the delicious irony. For years I have listened to friends and acquaintances, mostly foreigners, complain about how they have given their details to recruitment agencies who have promised to pass them on to potential employers, ultimately hearing nothing. So as I listened to recruitment agencies telling, with the frustration and incredulity I usually hear in my friends, how details about illegal foreign applicants that they have given to the Immigration Service have been ignored without so much as a follow-up phone-call, I had to laugh. I was sure that many of my friends, if they were listening, would either be whooping triumphantly or at least asking what it was about recruitment agencies that made any information they passed on so very unpalatable?

The item on Radio 4, an exposé of Immigration Service policy not to detain or charge those working illegally in Britain, was told with a tone of moral outrage. It tracked one illegal foreign worker as another documentary might track Osama Bin Laden. In hushed voice, the quarry’s house was described, along with plans for clandestine recordings which would hopefully catch the evil-doer out. Was the subject in question a drug-dealer? An arms-trader perhaps? Um, no. He’s a carer. The report told with horror that he sometimes cared for vulnerable adults in their own homes.

What? A foreigner? Without the proper papers? Caring for a decent British-born man or woman? It makes my blood boil. No, wait, it doesn’t. Because while the individual was clearly breaking the law (and I am aware of the arguments giving moral weight to legal transgressions), if he was doing his job, I fail to see how this should worry me. Is he less capable of caring, of carrying responsibility because he wasn’t born here or lacks the proper visa? Or is it that you cannot trust someone willing to work illegally? If it were not for the fact that many illegal immigrants are escaping economic hardship most of us cannot imagine, I might be more willing to judge. So why is there a difference in approach? Do those born here really feel that they are fundamentally different from those who are not? The attitude has its amusing side. When I first arrived in this country as a foreigner I had to prove with chest X-rays that I was not a TB carrier. My wife, who had also never set foot outside Africa but had a British passport, did not. That little burgundy book apparently has amazing healing powers. Why not give Aids sufferers citizenship instead of antiretrovirals? Ah but that would encourage immigration. That would be bad.

Tories last week wheeled out the ageing spectre of immigration in the form of “new EU countries” whose citizens will come and steal our jobs, causing unemployment (Why foreigners would naturally find it easier to find jobs than British people I’ve never understood). The Independent too (hardly a right-wing paper) revealed that proposed new anti-terror measures like detention without trial might also be used against (gasp!) British citizens. The revelation was meant to be shocking. It is. But what is more shocking is the assumption that the human rights of foreigners are somehow worth less than those of British citizens. That may be justifiable from a secular national perspective, but can Christians see arbitrary national borders as acceptable barriers to justice, the sharing of wealth or opportunity? If not, then do we have a duty to challenge our politicians and media about it? 

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