Letter: Broader role for MPs as a safeguard for deportees

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The Independent Online
Sir: You are correct to highlight the policing aspect of immigration cases and to commend the efforts of Paul Condon and Bernie Grant in trying to resolve the potentially disastrous situation that may well have followed the death of Joy Gardner ('Give deportees their dignity', 5 August). However, your leading article fails to acknowledge sufficiently that the issue of immigration control is not merely a policing issue.

It is clear from this episode that what needs to be investigated is where and when the decisions to deport are taken, what the reasons were, and how the immigration service deals with the removal procedures. When deportation action is taken, the act of removal is based on a factual situation that may have changed dramatically over a number of years. In that period individuals will probably have acquired strong roots in local communities.

Your view that there should be an independent observer present at the deportation is a welcome advance; however, I feel that a more effective means of ensuring fair treatment would be to amend the rules to permit the intervention by the person's Member of Parliament as a matter of procedure before the actual removal takes place.

Unfortunately, this most recent case is not the first where a representative has received a letter telling them that a client or constituent is to be removed 'shortly', only for them to discover that removal directions have already been set. Once this decision has been taken by the Immigration Service the MP should be alerted to the decision to enable him or her to make representations, including arranging a meeting with the minister accompanied by his or her constituent.

In recent years we have witnessed the marginalisation of the involvement of MPs in immigration cases. Where, before, we could approach ministers when people arrived without visas, and make representations to prevent their removal, now we have to bargain with junior officials at Heathrow airport and other ports.

What is needed is a complete review of immigration law and procedures and a repeal of the Immigration Act of 1988. Those of us who served on the committee stage of that Act warned the then immigration minister, Tim Renton, that the Act was unnecessary and that to make a criminal offence of overstaying would force the police into direct conflict with the community. We told him that it would end in tears. In this case, it has ended not only in tears but also in tragedy.

Yours sincerely

KEITH VAZ

MP for Leicester East (Lab)

House of Commons

London, SW1

6 August

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