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International Socialism, July/August 1976


M. Paddon

Slamming the Door


From International Socialism (1st series), No.90, July/August 1976, pp.30-32.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Slamming the Door: The Administration of Immigration Control
Robert Moore and Tina Wallace
Martin Robertson £2.25

As the subtitle suggests, the aim of this short book is to indicate how immigration control in Britain is actually implemented. In addition to outlining the development of immigration legislation it examines the various lengthy stages in the procedures that prospective immigrants have to go through, detailing all of this with a vast file of case studies. What it brings out quite clearly is that control is racist in intention, in implementation and its total implications. Thus, for instance, ‘EEC nationals’ are so defined as to exclude certain black Dutch and French citizens.

The underlying aim of control is, of course, to minimise the flow of coloured immigrants into the UK on the spurious grounds that this will somehow ease the integration of coloured migrants into the British community. It does nothing of the sort both because it is based on a number of ridiculous premises (what is the British community?) and because immigration control itself helps perpetrate the kinds of divisions it supposedly eradicates, by creating strata within the working class and fuelling racist ideologies.

The immigrant, for his part, is faced by a legislative and bureaucratic structure of quite amazing complexity. Several of the case studies indicate how problems have been created because immigrants have been misinformed by civil servants, and in one case a divorce court judge, who are themselves unacquainted with the labyrinthine rules and procedures. The source of much of this complexity is the delegation of considerable authority to Immigration Officers, at points of entry, and Entry Certificate Officers at British Embassies or High Commissions overseas. The effective control of immigration is based not on the formal legislation but on the Instructions to Immigration Officers and Immigration Rules issued by the Home Secretary to those implementing the law: Moore and Wallace illustrate the considerable discretion allowed to the Officers in interpreting these rules. But invariably, the discretion is used to devise ever more arbitrary and inhumane justifications for keeping blacks out.

One of their case studies indicates how the process works. In September 1973 an eight-year old Pakistani girl attempted to enter Britain with her step-mother in order to join her father who was already resident there. The Immigration Officer wanted to keep the girl out on the grounds that she did not have an Entry Certificate. Anyone wishing to migrate to Britain must have an Entry Certificate which is generally issued in the country of origin. The child’s step-mother pointed out that the reason the girl had no certificate was that she had been told at the British High Commission in Karachi that it would be unnecessary since the child was travelling on the step-mother’s passport. Having failed to exclude the girl on that tack, the Immigration Officer then concluded that the child might not be her father’s daughter, and that her name may have been added to the step-mother’s passport after she had been issued with an Entry Certificate. The obvious way to find out. at least to an Immigration Officer, was to interview the child. Now, in addition to being extremely young, and obviously scared the girl was also deaf and dumb. Both child and mother were reduced to tears at which point the Immigration Officers tried physically to separate them in order, one presumes, to send the child back to Paris (their last stop before England) on her own. Eventually, after an intervention by welfare agencies, and a Peer, and subjection to psychological reports the child was admitted in February 1974, six months after her initial attempt to join her father. And this does not take into account the time that the step-mother may have spent waiting for an Entry Certificate which can take anything up to four years to be issued.

It is quite clear from this and other examples that the Officers’ discretion is used to construct a series of Catch 22s. Statements are not to be accepted unless there are official documents to back them up. Official documents are not to be believed since in the words of one Home Office Adjudicator referring to India and Pakistan, ‘it is common knowledge that such documents can be obtained for a sum of money with no great difficulty’. It would be easy to conclude that Immigration Officers as a group are, quite simply, racist. But while they accept that most officers are probably right-wing, Moore and Wallace argue that such actions are inevitable when the job itself is defined from the outset as one of control and exclusion. If exclusion of blacks is the name of the game then it does not really matter who is kept out and why.

Up to this point, the book is useful, if rather tedious. Unfortunately this is where it stops. Given that it is written with an obvious commitment it seems pertinent to ask what they are committed to, and to whom they are trying to express this commitment. The implications of their argument are not spelt out, however, and they seem to believe that by simply exposing the inconsistencies and injustices in the present system of control, it can somehow be reformed. At times they appear to be asking that immigration control should be administered more humanely; the waiting times for Entry Certificates could be shortened, the number of interviews could be minimised, the interviews be made less demeaning and so on. But as they point out for themselves, the way in which the procedures operate are an inevitable consequence of the concern of immigration laws to control numbers. The aim then, although it is never clearly spelt out, is for the repeal of Britain’s immigration laws.

Now while this, as a minimal aim, is a good point of departure it is only at all viable or useful if construed within the general context of a discussion of the sources and nature of racialism, its role within the capitalist state and the way in which these must be opposed. In their final chapter the authors draw some parallels between other, so-called, welfare legislation and immigration control also, quite correctly, drawing the Prevention of Terrorism Act into the discussion. Like immigration control this temporary legislation, already establishing a permanent façade, is used to harass and imprison groups defined as potentially disruptive. Moore and Wallace recognise the repressive nature of this legislation and as a general extension of the activities of the state. They are critical of this extension of state power on the grounds, in their own words, of its ‘subordination of the individual, the family and all institutions’. In other words, the extension is simply seen as a deviation from the path that liberal democracy should take and fails to appreciate the immanent role of the state under capitalism. Hence, their implied appeal to precepts of ‘social justice’ in the belief that the injustices will be recognised and somehow eradicated. As Castles and Kosack have pointed out it is impossible to divorce the analysis of immigrants from that of the class structure as a whole. And discussion of the class structure requires an adequate analysis of the state. Otherwise one might be led with Moore and Wallace to the misguided position of making an appeal to social justice in a society which is fundamentally unjust and in which the concept itself is illusory.

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