Last week, the British Prime Minister gave a long-awaited speech on immigration. As with most long-awaited speeches, the lead-up in the press caused much more upset than the speech itself. In reality, David Cameron hinted at stricter rules for benefit caps for immigrants, and kept quiet about his earlier plans of putting a temporary cap on EU migration, something that would directly violate the EU principle of free movement.
There is a lot in this speech that’s objectionable, but I don’t want to go into detail here. Restricting benefits for EU migrants who haven’t found work after six months sounds perfectly reasonable to me. Other countries do it without trying to leave the EU simply by enforcing laws that are already there. David Cameron also stressed that a complete EU exit would, if anything, be a last resort. This still sounds terribly vague and a bit scary to me, but at least Cameron has stated his reluctance in public. In theory, those points should calm the “immigration debate” — something that only exists because an otherwise unremarkable small party realised it would make for a debate and attract voters. But do they? Enter the British press.
Ukip have been a godsend for the press. While the left-wing press do their best to vaguely insist on liberal principles and point out the flaws in Ukip’s reasoning (all the while milking the subject for all it’s worth), the yellow press have enough tales of foreign benefit scroungers to last them a couple of years. If they should ever run out, there are plenty of pictures of Nigel Farage drinking British beer. Anything Ukip, immigration, foreign, or EU goes. And since those are pretty big subjects, each day brings another big headline. Recently, they have become scarier and scarier. I’m not usually one to pay the yellow press much attention, but last week’s frontpage of the Daily Express (which is, Brits were quick to assure me, the worst) about “hidden migrant millions” made my blood run cold.
Not content with hating on those who have arrived here in the last ten years (or more recently — I’ve said before that I believe that all this is a direct reaction to the recent opening of the border for Romanians and Bulgarians), the paper now “reveals” that there are way more migrants in the UK than anybody will admit: British citizens born to foreign parents. Those “hidden migrants,” presumably disguised with British names and accents, continue to damage the country by draining its resources and generally being in the way. Most other papers were quick to point out that by this standard, certain senior politicians and their children would need to leave immediately. Instant comic relief is a very British way of dealing with unsavoury news and views, but it didn’t help me. I’m still stuck on the semantics of this headline.
It’s a neat linguistic trick. By calling second-generation immigrants “hidden,” the paper, and the political views it fosters, suggest that being a migrant is something that needs to be kept quiet, something that is both wrong and shameful. More so than “immigrant,” the word “migrant” itself suggests a wandering and drifting, and might trigger the age-old fear of gypsies and travellers that has resurfaced in recent debate. So much about this headline is terrible. Overnight, it turns me and the thousands like me into drifters without lives or rights, half-legal beings afraid to reveal who we really are. The reality, of course, is something quite different. I know many well-adjusted EU immigrants, integrated, happy, and not going anywhere anytime soon. We are the parents of those “hidden migrants.” They speak with local British accents, and only a fool would call them drifters. In our times of self-doubt and homesickness, they are the ones who insist we stay. If anything, they integrate us.
I don’t see how being a legal immigrant in this country should be a shame. That’s the one thing I cannot understand in this tired old debate. Nevermind the statistics that show that EU immigrants pay in more than they take out, or the fact that Polish immigrants shot down the most enemy planes in WWII. When did a big part of the British population decide that immigration is something so objectionable? It’s not a new phenomenon, and certainly not in this island nation. Immigration is not a dirty word. It’s not a political hot topic. It’s a fact. I despair of a country that can’t produce a single person of power and public standing to call out the bigotry, laziness, and, yes, danger of a “debate” that has become so one-sided that we seem to live in a country that has agreed overnight that “something needs to be done about immigration.” I despair of the politicians in this country for going along with it, every single one of them. I have all the support from my friends, neighbours and my community, and I guess I’m not the only one. This is not a country full of horrible people. But I’m still waiting for those not convinced by this immigration debate to speak up. Not necessarily for me, but for themselves, as decent people.
I’m speaking a lot more German in public these days because I’m not hiding. If I ever did hide, I regret it now. It’s become a matter of politics to get our voices heard.