Monday, January 7, 2013

David Cameron: we will keep out EU benefit tourists

Britain will demand new restrictions to keep out benefit tourists under a new relationship with the European Union, David Cameron has said.

The Prime Minister suggested only working immigrants should be allowed into the country, even if it means undermining the EU's key principle of "free movement".

He said there are already some restrictions on immigration across the EU, which could be extended when Britain seeks a new settlement with Brussels over the next few years.

“Should we look at arguments about, should it be harder for people to come and live in Britain and claim benefits? Yes, frankly we should,” he told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show.

There are fears that Britain will see an influx of immigrants from new EU member states within the next year.

Five year old quotas limiting the number of people from Bulgaria and Romania who can move to live in Britain are due to expire.

This will give 29 million Bulgarians and Romanians the right to live and work in Britain, in the same way as immigrants from Poland and other Eastern European countries entered the country from 2004 onwards.

Mr Cameron said stopping European immigrants claiming benefits is just one of a number of areas where Britain will try to re-negotiate its relationship with the EU.

The Prime Minister said he would also like the UK to be exempt from the Working Time Directive, which restricts the number of hours people can work.

“There are lots of things we’d be better off out of," he said. "The working time directive in my view should never have been introduced in the first place because it’s actually affecting things like the way we run our hospitals rather than simply about business and trade and the single market."

He said it is "perfectly acceptable" for Britain to make demands in exchange for other countries negotiating a closer union, despite fears that this will cause resentment within the EU.

Last month, the Prime Minister was chastised by a senior official for trying to pick and choose which EU laws Britain wants to follow.

Cecilia Malmström, EU home affairs commissioner, suggested Mr Cameron should not be trying to claw back 136 powers related to law and order. This is the Prime Minister's first step towards re-negotiating wider powers over areas such as agriculture, justice and employment laws.

This morning, he insisted a looser relationship with Brussels will be possible, as he prepares to give a major speech setting out his vision for Britain's future in the EU.

He is expected to reveal a plan go into the next election promising to give UK voters a referendum on whether to stay in the EU with a new relationship or exit altogether.

If he can persuade Conservatives that Britain already has a better deal from Brussels, it would give him a better chance of persuading many voters to stay in the EU.

However, this will only be possible if other EU countries are willing to co-operate because they want to keep Britain in the union.

Mr Cameron today said Britain is better off staying part of the EU because it must have a "seat at the table" when trading laws are being negotiated.

Asked whether the UK should leave Europe, he said: “I don’t think it would be right for Britain. My policy, my approach is determined absolutely, purely, and simply by the national interest. What is right for Britain? What is right for people in work? What’s right for British business? What’s right for the future of our country?

“Fifty per cent of our trade is with the European Union. At the moment, because we’re in this single market, we have a seat at the table in the single market, we help write those rules. If we were outside the EU altogether, we’d still be trading with these European countries but we’d have no say.”


Funny numbers on immigration

Last Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press," President Obama said that fixing our broken immigration system is one of the top priorities of his second term. He promised to introduce legislation this year to get it done.

No doubt the president felt the need to reiterate this well-worn pledge after two weeks of holiday-related news coverage detailing the impact that his administration's unprecedented deportations have had on immigrant communities across the country. Those news features were kicked off by the Department of Homeland Security's announcement that a record 409,849 individuals were deported in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30.

Those with only a passing interest in the issue might be forgiven for assuming that immigrants who were shown the door were the kind of people who pose a threat to our communities and our nation's security.

Unfortunately, this was not exactly true. And the subtle misrepresentation about the types of people who are being expelled calls into question how these latest statistics will be used to either hammer the president for not doing more to keep illegal immigrants in the country or to again raise the specter that his immigration books are cooked just as compromises on reforms are being negotiated.

Though John Morton, the director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, stated that 55 percent of those deported were convicted of felonies or misdemeanors -- about twice the number of

people in such categories deported in fiscal year 2008 -- the immigrants in question are not overwhelmingly murderers, gang-bangers or drug pushers we'd normally assume them to be.

According to Bryan Johnson, an immigration attorney and blogger in New York, the only reason that ICE is breaking deportation records is because Border Patrol apprehensions are also counted. When these individuals are caught a second time crossing the border, they are then prosecuted for illegal re-entry, a federal felony.

Johnson told me he thinks DHS and the administration "want to make it look like they're prioritizing their efforts, but I think they're intentionally shifting numbers so that they look like they're deporting more and more criminals when in fact they're not -- they're simply destroying more families."

While the distinction may not mean much to those who want to send all illegal immigrants packing, it actually causes two harms. First, it contributes to the incorrect, though popular, belief that simply being present in this country without the proper documentation is a criminal offense -- it's usually only a civil offense, most often for overstaying a visa.

Second, it creates the illusion that limited resources are being spent getting hardened, dangerous criminals out of our communities, when it is not quite the case.

Mary Giovagnoli, director of the Washington, D.C.-based Immigration Policy Center, agrees that whether because of purposeful intent to paint deportation statistics in the best possible light -- or simply because the quirks of government reporting produce un-nuanced, aggregate numbers that don't tell the whole story -- it's important for those interested in our immigration policy to understand what the numbers really mean.

A soon-to-be released report from her organization will detail how these intricacies reflect an increasingly sweeping and punitive U.S. immigration enforcement environment.

"During the course of the Bush and Obama administrations, DHS and ICE have tried to show they're tough on enforcement to try to soften the ground a little bit for eventual immigration reforms," Giovagnoli said in an interview. "But ever since 2005 when Operation Streamline ordered federal criminal charges for every person crossing the border illegally, the system is on auto-pilot to criminalize immigrants, subjecting them to the most vigorous enforcement with few mechanisms for getting out of the system.
"Ironically, these large numbers can be used to say that we're at a tipping point and that the administration should find ways to bring the system back into balance by providing more opportunities for relief."

As immigration returns to the national discourse, President Obama would surely benefit from clearing up rampant misperceptions surrounding his administration's deportation numbers -- and championing policy changes that will ensure that enforcement measures focus on the most serious threats to our nation's safety.


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