Thursday, April 7, 2011

We've 'lost' 74,500 asylum seekers in UK admits border chief

Officials have lost track of nearly 75,000 asylum seekers – and are giving up hope of ever finding them. Hundreds of thousands of case files were discovered in boxes at the Home Office more than five years ago in a major immigration scandal.

Last night the acting head of the UK Border Agency said staff will finish processing the backlog of more than 400,000 in July. But Jonathan Sedgwick was forced to admit fewer than one in ten of those has been identified and successfully deported. More than 161,000 have been given the right to stay in Britain, some of whom may have committed criminal offences. Many will have acquired the right as result of staying here for so long because of delays in dealing with their status.

Some 74,500 cases have been placed in a ‘controlled archive’ after officials could find ‘no trace’ of their existence, Mr Sedgwick said. More than 120,000 have been written off as errors or duplicates, and a total of 36,000 have been removed from the country or left voluntarily.

The handling of the backlog emerged as Mr Sedgwick gave evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee.

Committee chairman Keith Vaz said: ‘It seems that 74,500 of these cases are people who have in effect gone missing, you don’t know where they are. Although you have cleared your backlog, you have taken 74,500 of these cases and stuck them in the controlled archive room.

‘Then you have granted indefinite leave to 40 per cent of the 400,000. How is that clearing the backlog and achieving the Government’s target of reducing immigration?’

Astonishingly, Mr Sedgwick said some of the missing asylum seekers ‘might have died’. He said: ‘It was absolutely not the case that we have closed the door and forgotten about them. ‘We have checked every single one of them against databases to see if there is any track of them. The conclusion of that may be that they have left the country – some of them might have died.’

He admitted some given the right to stay may have committed criminal offences, but could not say how many. He denied that allowing them to remain in the UK amounted to an ‘amnesty’ for asylum seekers, saying: ‘I don’t accept that it’s an amnesty.

‘We have removed very substantial numbers – 36,000 people have been removed as a result of this programme – but as a result of the passage of time additional rights accrue.’

An audit of the asylum backlog in 2006 estimated it could be as high as 283,000 cases – a figure dismissed by Labour ministers. However, a further audit revealed the total was between 400,000 and 450,000. Then home secretary John Reid set the target of clearing the backlog within five years.

Cases placed in the archive are checked against 19 watch lists and databases. If no match is found within six months, the case is considered concluded.

Last month a National Audit Office report found officials had ‘no idea’ where 180,000 migrants whose visas have expired since December 2008 were.


Alabama House Passes Arizona-Style Immigration Bill

The Alabama House of Representatives voted Tuesday to pass an immigration bill modeled after Arizona's, that would give law enforcement officials the authority to demand papers from people in cases "where reasonable suspicion exists that a person is an unauthorized alien," and jail those suspected of being in the country illegally until their immigration status can be confirmed.

The bill, which passed the House by a vote of 73-28, makes it a crime to be an illegal immigrant in the state of Alabama, and could lead to trespassing charges for those found to be in the state unlawfully. In Alabama, trespassing carries a sentence of up to a year.

Kim Chandler of The Birmingham News reports that the bill's sponsor, Rep. Micky Hammon (R) said during debate that it "attacks every aspect of an illegal alien's life" and "is designed to make it difficult for them to live here so they will deport themselves."

The bill will now go up for a vote in the state Senate.

Arizona was the first state to sign into law an immigration bill of this kind. Its statute required "a reasonable attempt to be made to determine the immigration status of a person" who law enforcement comes into contact with, "if reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the U.S."

The law sparked much outrage last year, due to fears that it would encourage racial profiling in the state. President Obama condemned it as well, saying that it "threaten[s] to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans."

A number of other states have followed Arizona's lead, including Georgia, which passed one bill in the House last month, and South Carolina, which passed one in its Senate.


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