We need to be careful about creating hierarchies of immigrants

We need to be careful about creating hierarchies of immigrants

We need to be careful about creating hierarchies of immigrants

Should place of birth influence a person’s worth?

The UK has long struggled with the idea of cultural and national identity, as a country that wants to be proud of its long history, but must also accept its increasing diversity and grapple with how to address past crimes committed by the Britons of previous centuries against the ancestors of Britons of today.

In recent years — and particularly in recent months with increasingly xenophobic bills coming through Parliament — this discourse has shifted towards defending British residents from this onslaught and highlighting the extreme prejudice inherent in the idea that a person must be ‘fully and solely British’ or ‘foreign and threatening’. Whilst minoritised ethnic groups have borne the brunt of this prejudice, these gotcha-style rules on citizenship and immigration have meant that anyone without two native-born parents, even if they were born in the UK and grew up in the UK, can find themselves ostensibly without the legal right to be in the country.

As we condemn these laws and the troubling attitudes behind them, however, we need to be careful about unwittingly creating our own hierarchies of immigrants based on place of birth. A person who was born in the UK and knows no other home should not be forced to jump through hoops to stay in the country.

Many of our country’s celebrities and idols are lauded for being “born and raised” or “born and bred” in the UK, which strengthens public support for them, and, when they are subject to horrifying abuse, this is often where public defence of these figures focuses.

But, if we focus on ‘only’ defending those born in this country, we risk labelling immigrant Brits — whether naturalised citizens or long-term residents — with an inferior status.

International migration conceptualises generations of immigrants based on place of birth and ancestry, whereby a ‘first generation immigrant’ moves country as an adult and a ‘second generation immigrant’ is born in their home country to immigrant parents, and so on. We are now at the point, though, where there are countless ‘generations’ of immigrants and real people who don’t fit nicely into one particular category — for example, many people are caught in the limbo of having immigrated to their country of residence, but at such a young age that they don’t remember any other life.

A person who was born in the UK to non-British parents is not ‘worth’ any less than a person born to two adults born in the UK. Yet, is a person who also grew up in the UK but spent a few years of their young life in a different country worth any less? Is a person who considers the UK their home but ‘only’ immigrated as an adult then worth less than that?

It’s clear how problematic this debate could be.

If a person contributes to the country, abides by British laws, and considers the UK their home, then we should not be judging their worth based on how ‘British’ they are based on some rudimentary characteristics that have been determined arbitrarily, or subjecting them to even more discrimination than they have likely already faced.

Those of us who love living in London value the diversity that the city brings. This diversity is, in large part, a result of 40% of Londoners coming from minoritised ethnic backgrounds and 37% of Londoners being immigrants of some sort.

The idea of an ‘immigrant’ is a helpful administrative term, but the days of generations of families staying in the same town or country are far behind it, and we need to adapt our cultural and societal perceptions accordingly.

At JAN Trust, we are proud of our history — as an organisation that was founded to satisfy the needs of marginalised immigrant communities — and work to ensure that minoritised ethnic women and young people are not left behind. But we also know that we must evolve with the changing times and actively campaign against stereotypes and prejudice. No person should be treated differently based on the colour of their skin or where they, or their parents, were born.

In 2022, should we even still be so fixated on the idea of the ‘immigrant’?