Target Cultures, Hostile Environments and Immigration

Amber Rudd resigned on Sunday evening not because of the Windrush Generation scandal (although that created the context for her resignation) rather, it was because she misled the House of Commons over whether or not the Home Office set targets for deportation removals.

Part of the confusion seems to be around different definitions of target.  Now, for as long as I can remember, there has been strong political support for controlling immigration. Not only that, but there has been a long history of setting targets both in government and in private business in order to encourage improvement. Hospitals have been set waiting time targets, manufacturers will have on time delivery targets, schools have targets for % Grades 9-5 (replacing the old A* – C) and individual pupils will have target grades. So, I am inclined to think that the confusion may have been genuine rather than intentional misleading as I’m not sure what Rudd had to gain from this. 

So, when you watch back The Home Secretary’s evidence to the Select Committee there was a question about targets in terms of numbers or percentages. Similarly, she was keen to emphasise in the House of Commons that targets were not put ahead of real cases. What we now know is that she had very clearly set a target (objective/ambition/aspiration if you prefer) of increasing removals by 10%.

Here’s the problem. Once you say that you want to make improvements by reducing bad things or increasing good things then inevitably, someone is going to set a target. This is particularly the case when you have a target culture.  And that’s the point, our country runs with a target culture, so the automatic response is that if you are told that you must increase something by 10% then you will flow that down and percentages by implication rely on numbers. So if your department processes 20,000 removals per year, then you will aim to remove 22,000 next year. This will be flowed down to the particular case workers. So, if you are processing 20 removals per month, then you will be told to make it 22. Actually, someone is probably going to set you a stretch target to really make sure the goal is achieved and furthermore and to allow for the fact that some areas will under-achieve. So you are then told that you must make sure its 25.

Similarly, if you are told that immigration must be reduced to the tens of thousands then that has to be flowed out to departments and individuals. So, somewhere sits an immigration office and he is reviewing applications.  Each application comes with a bundle of evidence. Some of the evidence is straight forward, physical violence with proof of injury against someone from a regime that we know to be hostile.  So, you approve those cases. Other cases will be obvious. You know that if someone applies for asylum from Australia that they are either trying it on or there’s some kind of delusion going on. You reject the case. But most cases are complex. People arrive without evidence -they have left in a hurry. They are trying to speak through translators. They are not sure who they can trust and so the whole story doesn’t come out immediately. They have suffered emotionally as much as physically. They come from countries where the government isn’t officially bad but we do know that there are grey areas because corruption isn’t dealt with or because regional power is held informally through the clan.  Now supposing you have been told that you have a target and that means you can only let through 10 out of every 100 applications each month. There’s a good chance that you’ve already got your quota of 10. So what happens to the next 5 cases that come across your desk? Well the pressure is on to find a reason to reject them. And because you are not dealing with obviously hostile regimes and obvious signs of physical harm, well then, the reasons to say no aren’t that hard to find.

As much as you don’t want numbers and targets to come ahead of people, you are swimming hard against the tide. Now add into the mix that you’ve been told to create a hostile environment for illegal immigrants. Some of the people now applying to stay came here legally initially. They had temporary visas but then when their visa ran out they stayed on. They ask for asylum when the fact comes to light. Others are met at the border and claim asylum whist trying to enter the country.  So these are illegal immigrants -they don’t have the legal paperwork to stay. This means that part of your job is to make the environment hostile for them so they don’t want to stay. How is that going to affect your approach to questioning?

The result is that vulnerable people whose cases need to be heard, who are looking for justice and mercy find that the system is stacked against them finding it. So, what does this have to do with me as a believer?

Well, Exodus 22:21 says:

“You must not mistreat or oppress foreigners in any way. Remember, you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt.

I believe that this is an important principle, not just a law for the Israelites but a general principle for how we should regard and treat one another. So, I believe that I have a personal responsibility to care for immigrants who have made their home in the UK and that includes loving, welcoming, helping them feel at home, it includes being an advocate and standing alongside them through their cases but it also means that when we see a system that does not work and then leads to injustice then I have a responsibility to speak out too.

It is my view that the system just does not work. We have a situation where to quote an MP I spoke to once it is both “cruel and inefficient.” It’s a situation where people are left waiting for years for certainty. They are constantly submitting evidence, they are constantly going to hearings. They cannot work, they live in temporary accommodation on very little and they live in uncertainty. I would argue that we have mistreated and oppressed them.

So, when it comes to public theology, I think it is important that we properly understand and engage with the issues relating to immigration.