By Maria Fort
Recently I landed at Heathrow Airport after a trip to the US. Upon returning to London, I was looking forward to getting to my flat and preparing to go back to work the next morning. I was home and I could relax after a long flight. But first, immigration. Did I mention I’m foreign?
After waiting in the queue, I made my way to the UKBA officer to whom I handed my passport, landing card and residence permit, or more accurately, my foreign national ID card. The agent briefly looked at my passport to see that the photo matched my ID card before closing it, putting it down on the desk and running my card, complete with microchip, through an electronic reader. Then without looking at my face, she asked me a number of questions while eyeing her computer where my personal details were flashing across the screen. Details that wouldn’t be taken from a citizen unless arrested for a crime.
Last year when the coalition government came into power, it only took days to announce the scrapping of a national identity card scheme on the grounds that it was expensive, obtrusive and violated the civil liberties of law-abiding Britons. So what is the difference between a law-abiding citizen and a law-abiding resident? I filled in the paperwork as required. I met all the criteria. I stood in line for hours to have my fingerprints, photos and personal details taken by a government agency bent on criminalising those who follow the rules. ID cards for foreign nationals are meant to target tougher border controls, but fail to address the estimated 180,000-plus people that have overstayed visas since 2007, effectively violating the rights of only those that obey the terms of their stay in the UK. So how do ID cards resolve the problem then?
They don’t. But we knew that. Only days ago the UKBA was termed ‘not fit for purpose’ by Keith Vaz MP and a Home Affairs select committee report expresses deep concerns with the agency’s effectiveness. ID cards don’t prevent illegal immigration. ID cards don’t prevent people overstaying visas. ID cards criminalise the individuals following immigration law to the letter. Scrap the card, do unto your hard-working visitors as you would to your nationals. Respect my rights as much as I respect your system. Target the policy problems, not the limits of intrusion.