Ex-soldier facing expulsion over 2010 fight

BBC News - Fijian-born soldier Isimeli Baleiwai fights to stay in UK (also at Channel 4 News)

Isimeili Baleiwai served in the British army for 13 years, seeing action in Bosnia, Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan. Normally this isn’t someone whose cause I would be fighting for here, but he is the latest victim of the last two government’s drive to rid this country of “foreign criminals” at the behest of the tabloids. L/cpl Baleiwai was in a fight with an army colleague in 2010, which lasted under a minute and damaged a man’s tooth filling, for which he was fined £1,000. His commanding officer said in 2011 that his performance was of “of an exceptionally high standard” and that he was “charismatic, selfless and well-liked”. However, the UK Border Agency says that his disciplinary record amounts to a criminal conviction and thus he is not of good character, and therefore ineligible for either indefinite leave to remain or citizenship, for which soldiers from overseas can apply after four and five years’ service respectively.

The precise legal reasons why this blemish on his military record counts as “bad character” are discussed in the BBC report. While I obviously do not believe that people who come to this country for work or refuge and abuse their position with serious or repeated criminality should be allowed to remain, removing people who have been settled here for a long time and have families that have no other home over one minor incident is inhumane both to the person removed and their family. His marriage (or at least his relationship with his now wife) predates the fight by several years, during any of which he could have applied for leave to remain or citizenship.

Since 2006 when the Daily Mail launched their campaign to get “foreign criminals” removed, during Blair’s government, there have been a number of people who had been long-settled here threatened with removal over offences that were historical, and in some cases (such as Ernesto Leal and Sakchai Makao) their friends fought campaigns to prevent their removal, and won. The latter case was particularly brutal as the young man had lived in the UK since he was 10, all his close family live here, and had forgotten his original language (Thai). Perhaps because they want to reduce the number of immigrants anyway, and partly because the press make no distinction between these people and unattached foreign criminals who have been here only a short time, expelling a large number of them regardless of circumstances and changing the rules helps to satisfy the (fake) outrage. The media fabricated a similar outrage in the United States, with the result in 1996 that Bill Clinton signed a law which mandated the removal of foreign offenders even if their offences were minor and had happened years ago with penalties duly served, with similar tragic results, some of them overturned by local campaigns but still a number of long-settled people with American families expelled from the country over long-forgotten offences.

I have posted here from time to time about long-standing British residents facing explusion because they fell foul of some obscure rule, despite overwhelming connections to the UK and lack of significant connection to anywhere else. Family connections should trump all, except in the most extreme circumstances: someone with a British spouse or children should have automatic leave to remain. Anyone with a British parent should have automatic right to citizenship (without going through any farcical test) — currently, people born overseas to a British mother before 1982 do not qualify for citizenship, a rule that could be changed if there was the political will. There should not be the need for these public appeals: the British state should not be separating British families in almost any circumstances. The removal of this soldier over something so petty is disproportionate and cruel, and denies his family their rights to family life under the European Convention on Human Rights (there are misuses of this provision, granted, but this is not one of them) and should be halted.

There is a petition which ‘Bale’ has published which readers are invited to sign, here.

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