Just for a thought experiment I’m going to start by looking at the ‘hostile environment’ from the Government’s point of view. Sorry. That should now read ‘compliant environment’, which frankly sounds even more sinister. I assume the logic goes “There are immigration rules. We should be nice to those who comply with them, and nasty to those who don’t.” Simple. Ok, I’m going to leave aside that we are not, in fact, nice to those who comply – witness the punitive visa charges levied on those trying to do the right thing. Windrush, the argument flows, was simply a glitch in calibration. We just drew the line in the wrong place. By some failure of implementation, the wrong people got hostiled. We just need too get a bit better at drawing the line.

There is an old one about 3 baseball umpires talking about balls and strikes.

The first says ‘There’s balls and there’s strikes and I call them as they are.

The second says ‘There’s balls and there’s strikes and I call them as I see them.’

The third says ‘There’s no such things as balls and strikes until I call them.’

And here is the problem. Immigration and asylum cases are complex and messy things. That’s because lives are complex and messy things. Every life is full of contradictions and paradoxes; of things that don’t make much sense in retrospect. I know mine is. And like every life, much that has happened has done so without documentary evidence. Without evidence, there is only credibility – the most intangible and subjective of yardsticks. This cat’s cradle then gets held up against against the immigration rules. It has to be presented in a way that fits the decision making criteria. Criteria that the applicant doesn’t understand. I say this with confidence because no-one understands them. They are labyrinthine. If you haven’t the moral energy to follow that link the salient point is that there have been 5700 changes since 2010 bringing the rules to 375,000 words. That’s more than Kafka’s ‘The Trial’ and Heller’s ‘Catch 22’ added together.

Balls and strikes. Someone has to draw a line and determine whether another person is on the right side of it. It’s a wavy line; a dotted line. In fact it’s a variously shaded area of different hues and tones. And if you’re on the wrong side of the line, the consequences can be catastrophic. Hostile doesn’t begin to describe it. Homelessness. Destitution. Indefinite detention without trial. Forcible removal from the UK.

“There’s no such thing as balls and strikes until I call them.” Out of the mess of people’s lives we manufacture artificial and arbitrary certainty, and from this flows punitive policy that should have no place in a civilised society.

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