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Fortress Blair - PM bets on biometric ring of steel to 'fix' immigration

Round up the usual foreigners...

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The reason they can try again and is, in the case of this route, apparent back at the first EU border, Ceuta-Morocco. Many of them are Africans who have endured a long and dangerous journey to Morocco, and while a few of them can be identified by Spanish immigration as having originated in countries they can be sent back to, many of them can't. So the Spanish maybe detain them for a while, then ship them across to mainland Spain in the hope they'll go away. Same story at the French border - try to stop them getting in, can't think what to do with them once they are in, hope they'll go away. And finally, the same goes for the UK, where they can join the pile of missing aliens e-Borders didn't stop. Reports last week from the Canary Islands cover similar ground - large numbers who can't be sent back overburden their initial landfall, and hence become a general EU problem.

This is the point where Mr Tony's ID card magic bullet comes in, so we should look at the situation in more detail. The Immigration and Nationality Directorate, it was revealed last week, does not currently pursue overstayers, because mysteriously, when they've tried they've generally found that they're not at their last recorded address. If they happen to trip over your aunty from Trinidad who forgot to go home they'll probably send her back, but mostly she's safe. And, irony of ironies, one sure-fire way illegal immigrants are currently snagged is if they're arrested for committing a crime. But then they don't get sent straight back, because they've got to go to prison first, and when they get out you, er, forget to send them back...

As we pointed out earlier, Mr Tony didn't get specific about how ID cards would be applied to this situation, but for the sake of argument we'll speculate a little then just pretend that It Is So. Equipped with massively extended resources and (in the case of at least one of the two organisations) a vastly increased sense of purpose and resolve, IND and police SWAT teams operate intensive ID checks, pass controls and area searches, netting large numbers of immigration offenders. Alternatively, the Government pipe-dream of ID cards becoming your 'don't leave home without it' passport to life, commonly used by individuals to validate transactions several times a day, becomes a reality, and the illegals are flagged up by the electronic national ID checking network instead.

Neither of these scenarios is particularly likely, but remember that we're just supposing, OK? Whatever, your auntie from Trinidad gets it, as part of the first wave of low-level offenders, while buying stamps at the Post Office. People with jobs that show up on the system, people not trying very hard to go missing and still using the name and papers they arrived with, all of these get caught in the early stages of the dragnet. Note that IND by its own admission goes for the easier cases where it stands a better chance of a result, and note also that in this respect, those co-operating with the system and attempting to regularise their position, rather than just going missing aren't necessarily doing themselves any favours.

The criminals, the fugitives who know you're looking for them, those who adopt false IDs, and those exist below the system's radar are all going to be a lot harder, but if the checks are intensive enough and go on long enough, then quite a lot of them can be scooped up. If, that is, the supply of new illegal immigrants can be shut off. But as we've seen, even with e-Borders fully deployed there is no obvious way that this can be achieved.

Which leaves Blair's plans to solve the immigration question through the application of IT with difficulties on several levels. The border defences themselves will be expensive to keep up, will put non-immigrant travellers through annoying hoops, but will do little to impede would-be immigrants coming in under false pretences and/or false documentation. They will give the UK a biometric database of a reasonable percentage of the future defaulters, but these can only rationally be tracked down in-country via fairly repressive controls which again will impact heavily on the rest of the population. These measures will produce a large (and, assuming the supply is not shut off, continually growing) group of candidates for deportation, and as these will likely abscond if released, they must be detained until...

Well yes, until when? And where? If their country of origin can be confirmed, and if a repatriation agreement exists with that country, then they can be deported. But they may not admit where they're from, the country in question may not accept that they're from there, or may just plain not be willing to accept them. Repatriation agreements, which the Blair regime has been pursuing assiduously, but not entirely successfully, work to some extent, but if the UK can't actually prove country of origin, why should the presumed country accept the deportation?

So even if Fortress Blair performs as specified (remember we've only been pretending it will), we're left with a growing pile of people we can't send back because nobody will accept them. So what do you do? Keep them in camps forever? Effectively, the problem is the same throughout Western Europe - borders can be, and are being, strengthened, but no matter how strong the perimeter defence, borders will remain permeable and those who get through will in many cases become an insoluble problem. But we shouldn't be too hard on Tony here; yes, he's placing an absurd amount of faith in technology which cannot supply a solution, but he's not alone there, just maybe a bit further out on a limb than the rest of Western Europe, all of which, to a greater or lesser extent, is in denial. ®

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