Citizenship is not just a visa

A picture of Simon Danczuk, a middle-aged, balding white man wearing a white shirt, dark blue tie and grey jacket with his lips turned down, standing in front of some old brick housesToday three members of the notorious ‘grooming gangs’ who raped and sexually abused girls in the Rochdale area lost an appeal against deportation to Pakistan. Two of the men, who were jailed in 2012, have been released on licence after serving part of their sentences; a third received a 22-year sentence and will remain in prison. All were born in Pakistan and were naturalised as British citizens; one of them came to the UK in 1967, aged 14, and has four children (presumably adults given his age) in the UK. His appeal includes the claim that his conviction is unsound because it was a “conspiracy” of all involved, that the jury was all white and that it was “fashionable to blame everything on Muslims these days”, a defence that was unsurprisingly rejected. The local MP, Simon Danczuk, has demanded that “foreign-born criminals should not be able to hide behind human rights laws to avoid deportation”.

There was a previous occasion in which I saw a tweet linking to a case in which a man, born in the UK but not a citizen because of his parents’ immigration status at the time of his birth, who was facing deportation to their home country of Jamaica. I immediately lost all sympathy when I read of his lengthy criminal record which dated back to his teenage years. However, I am also against first-world countries expelling criminals who had been there since childhood back to their countries of origin, usually third-world countries. Such policies caused devastation in Latin America, where thousands of criminals were deported from the USA; those deported for making one mistake were lost in their countries of birth where they had no remaining connections, while the gangsters re-formed their gangs and got back to business. It’s not ethical to deport someone who, while not born here, was ‘made’ as a criminal here. These three men were very likely not rapists when they left Pakistan; it was in their particular circle of British Asians in the fast-food and minicab industries that this happened. Pakistan is not to blame for their crimes and should not have to pay for or accommodate them; we may think we are protecting women and girls by deporting him but Pakistan has quite a high female population of its own.

I fully approve of removing people who committed crimes shortly after coming to the UK, and more so those who came here for that purpose. However, the whole idea of citizenship is that this is your country now, for better or worse, which is why it is not given out to just anyone. It is about belonging, not merely the right to live somewhere. Naturalisation is only revoked when it is found to have been obtained dishonestly, such as by lying about one’s parentage or concealing a criminal record or one’s conduct during a war; it may be revoked for treason or espionage, but not for common crimes or because the government believes that someone’s presence is not “conducive to the public good”, a phrase used as a justification for excluding foreign visitors because, for example, they are hate preachers.

One may not sympathise with these three men (I certainly do not) or any other individual affected. I am more concerned with the fact that it is getting easier and easier to throw people out of the country; anyone the government wants to throw out who has connections to another country, they can, and I suspect it will not stop with naturalised citizens, much as it did not stop with people who were not citizens but had been in the country for all their adult lives and had a spouse and children here (or, as has been documented in the USA, adoptees who were brought as babies or small children but whose adoptive parents neglected to naturalise them). If citizenship can be revoked after decades for committing a crime, or because a politician decides the country would be better off without you, it’s not citizenship at all; it’s just a kind of enhanced visa.

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