Monday, January 2, 2012

Cricket-playing student at the centre of new human rights row in Britain

Abdullah Munawar is an intelligent, hard-working and courteous 23-year-old trainee accountant. But when judges considered his application to remain in Britain after completing a three-year degree course, they did not base their decision on what contribution he might make to this country.

Instead, their ruling that he can stay in the UK hinged on his cricket hobby and the friendships he has made here in the three years since arriving from his middle-class home in Bangladesh.

The case of the cricketing student now takes its place in the annals of unusual immigration decisions - alongside the “Bolivian cat man”, first exposed in these pages two years ago, who sparked a Cabinet rift at the 2011 Conservative conference.

But the real question raised by his legal victory is how it might be applied to other people in the future, and whether it will undermine the Coalition’s commitment to cut immigration from the profligate levels seen under Labour.

I have analysed hundreds, if not thousands, of immigration cases for our End the Human Rights Farce campaign, and this case made among the thinnest arguments we have yet seen. Indeed, immigration lawyers have expressed surprise at the evidence and the outcome.

Mr Munawar cannot be blamed for appealing against the Home Office’s initial decision that he should return to Bangladesh. It was made under the points-based system, which was itself a flawed creation of the Labour government.

But we can question the way the immigration tribunal determines what amounts to “private and family life” - conferring a right to remain in Britain - and what does not.

Sixty years ago, with the horrors of the Second World War still fresh and raw, lawyers devised a set of principles designed to prevent a repeat of the Holocaust and other depravities. This was the European Convention on Human Rights, enshrined in British law under Labour’s Human Rights Act in 1998.

In 1950, those lawyers did not set out to protect an immigrant’s right to bowl a cricket ball on a Sunday afternoon, as in this case. Nor did they agonise over any of the other absurd scenarios - uncovered by our campaign - which have also hinged on the convention, particularly the family life measures set out in Article 8.

Take, for example, Lionel Hibbert, a 50-year-old Jamaican criminal who fathered three children by three mothers within four months of each other, and later claimed he should not be deported because of his “right to family life”. British judges agreed, and overturned the Home Office’s decision.

Or in another recent example, the violent drug dealer Gary Ellis, 23, also from Jamaica, who convinced a court he had a stable family life with his young daughter and girlfriend, when in fact she split up with him years ago and refused to allow him in her home.

The courts’ willingness to believe these stories, and attach inappropriate weight to them, is a major problem in our immigration system. Another is the Home Office’s inability to investigate each person’s family life claims, so that misinformation goes uncorrected.

Home Office ministers have indicated that some major reforms will be implemented this year. The most significant of these is expected to arise from a review of Article 8 and the “family migration routes” into Britain, which addresses the thorny problem of foreign-born people, often from Commonwealth nations, who want to join relatives here.

A consultation paper published last July asked whether the Home Office should be able to deport foreigners who showed a “serious disregard for UK laws”, as if there was any possibility that the answer could be “no”.

It remains to be seen how reforms of Article 8 will be taken forward.

Sources have also suggested that ministers will this year attempt to forcefully express their dissatisfaction to the judges - possibly through legislation - in an attempt to turn back the tide of over-generous decisions in the courts.

Appropriate and robust changes must be made as soon as possible, if we are to avoid a surge in cases which undermine our border control by exploiting the latest human rights weaknesses.


Republican candidate Romney would veto immigration "dream" act

Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney said on Saturday he would veto a proposal granting U.S. citizenship to undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children, a pledge that won hearty applause from Iowa conservatives he hopes to win over.

A young woman asked Romney about the bipartisan proposal known as the Dream Act, during an appearance at a crowded restaurant in LeMars, a conservative Republican stronghold in western Iowa.

"The question is if I were elected and Congress were to pass the Dream Act, would I veto it and the answer is yes," Romney said.

"For those that come here illegally, the idea of giving them in-state tuition credits or other special benefits, I find to be contrary to the idea of a nation of laws," Romney said.

"If I'm the president of the United States I want to end illegal immigration so that we can protect legal immigration. I like legal immigration."

Under the Dream Act, which was brought up in the Senate in May, young undocumented immigrants who have lived most of their lives in the United States and graduate from U.S. high schools would be eligible for a conditional six-year "path to citizenship" if they earn a college degree or serve two years in the military.

Romney also said he would secure the U.S.-Mexico border with a fence and enough Border Patrol agents to guard it.

The remarks drew vigorous applause in LeMars and at a later appearance in Sioux City. Romney said he would eliminate the "magnet" that draws illegal immigrants by cracking down on employers who hire them.

"We need to give those employers the tools they need to determine who's legal and illegal," he said. "But if they have those tools and don't use them, we're going to go after them just like we go after employers who don't pay their taxes," Romney said.

He said he would continue a provision that grants a fast track to citizenship for foreigners who serve in the military.

Romney has led in the opinion polls ahead of Tuesday's Iowa caucus, which kicks off the state-by-state contests to choose the Republican presidential candidate who will challenge President Barack Obama, a Democrat, in the November 2012 general election.

But he has not sealed the deal with some Iowa Republicans who doubt his conservative credentials because of his history as governor of left-leaning Massachusetts.

"We need a staunch conservative to the max and I just don't see it in anybody other than (Rick) Santorum," said Pat Renken, a LeMars resident who manages a grain elevator. He turned out at a Romney rally despite planning to vote for Santorum, a conservative former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania.

"There's nothing that turns me off about him (Romney)," Renken said. "I just like Senator Santorum more.


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