What, in the political field, is the definition of a constituent? The answer would presumably be somebody who lives in an MP’s constituency. Would such a person necessarily be on the electoral register? Well, not obviously so. And – a related but rather deeper question – would such a person necessarily have legal immigration status in the UK?
The answer is No, according to a letter written by a coalition of charities and supported by 107 MPs, recently sent to the Speaker of the House of Commons. The letter says, inter alia, that: “MPs have a responsibility to advocate for all their constituents, regardless of immigration status”.
This letter came in an interesting context. Quite a lot of migrants contact their MPs to try to get help with their immigration issues – with, it must be said, highly varying degrees of success. Some such migrants are here illegally.
The most obvious principle might seem to be that the MP would try to help such illegal migrants. But it does not always work out like this in practice. Some MPs evidently feel affronted when expected to help an illegal migrant and – horror of horrors – it appears that in some cases, when asked for help by such a person, they have contacted the Home Office immigration hotline to report their illegal status.
This seems drastically unsporting. Or, to put it in a more structured legal sort of way, immigration lawyers in many cases deal day in day out with illegal migrants. Some may have been here illegally for many years or even for decades and some may only recently have become illegal: something which, as we have on occasion previously explained, can happen to the most law-abiding person. But immigration lawyers are not allowed to report illegal migrants to the Home Office or anyone else for that matter.
The reasons are obvious. Part of immigration lawyers’ legitimate work is to represent illegal migrants and try and help them acquire – or re-acquire – legal status. If lawyers were in the habit of reporting people to the Home Office this would not exactly create a great deal of confidence amongst migrants. And lawyers are subject to a very important overarching principle: they must act in their clients’ best interests. (This is a principle that can only be violated in the most extreme circumstances.)
But MPs evidently have no such rules, and the 107 MPs who supported the letter feel strongly about this. As it is put in the letter: “Many migrants are now fearful of contacting their MP, effectively excluding them from democratic representation”. The letter requests the Speaker to raise the issue in Parliament, with a view to getting the practice banned.
But it seems that they are up against some opposition. One MP, Sir Christopher Chope, provided a not entirely favourable slant on the subject in a television interview:
“I have reported cases of immigration crime on behalf of constituents who have felt their neighbours are engaged in illegal working when they shouldn’t have been in the country. Home Office policy is very much to ensure that, as far as possible, life is made uncomfortable for those one million illegals, so that they will be encouraged to go back to where they came from rather than be a burden on our public services here.”
He also opined that constituents (he presumably means other constituents) would “want MPs to have the same responsibilities to report immigration crime as we expect other members of the public to do”.
Sentiments like this are not very encouraging. Clearly, some MPs are prepared to help illegal migrants and some are not. Apparently some 68 MPs reported illegal migrants last year – including, incidentally, MPs from all major political parties.
So our advice about this must be clear. If you are here illegally, for whatever reason, be extremely cautious about contacting your MP for help. You must first be sure that your MP is going to want to help you. But your lawyer, on the other hand, should automatically be on your side because that is what lawyers do and what they get paid for.
Some illegal migrants are in a very difficult legal situation. But your lawyer should, hopefully, provide you with advice that is realistic and that provides you with a good idea about the best options for you.