And we are off again in the election stakes with Damien Green, shadow immigration minister, as the jockey flogging the dead horse of Nu Labour's immigration policy. This time he has chosen to focus on legal aid costs to migrants ensnared in the immigration system.
The Telegraph, Mail (in the guise of the redoubtable James Slack) and Sun all carried pieces highlighting the latest selection from Green's immigration war chest stocked up especially for the coming election so he could further enrage Concerned of Tunbridge Wells possibly push as many disenchanted ex-Labour pit bull-owning and Burberry-wearing potential BNP voters his way as possible.
The 'revelation' this time was the '£28million cost of providing legal advice to every asylum seeker in the UK' in the words of the Telegraph headline or 'More than £28m spent on legal aid for asylum seekers last year' if you prefer the Mail's version (they always have to exaggerate, Green only said that the bill MIGHT be higher). This means that the nearly 47,000 asylum cases heard in 2008/9 amounted to an average of roughly £610 per person.
Except that not everybody in the asylum process will have availed themselves of their right to free legal representation and many who did would also have also gone on to an immigration tribunal, at an average cost of £1,670 per application, or even to judicial review, £2,500 a shot.
On top of that Green says there are 4,857 asylum appeals currently outstanding, "hundreds of thousands of asylum cases that have been hanging around for years. This involves a huge cost to the taxpayer, as well as being unfair to those involved (very generous). A quick, efficient system would be a real benefit, but ministers have failed to deliver this despite twelve years of trying."
The big question is, what is Green and his yellow press friends suggesting? That legal aid for asylum cases is abolished? That the appeal process is scraped and all immigration decisions are carried out by diktat or maybe immigration should be banned all together? [see: The Myth Of The 70 Million]
To try and rub further salt into the wound, the Telegraph also points out that "ministers have promised to clear the 450,000 so-called “legacy” cases, some of which date back to the 1990s, by 2011. Just under 200,000 cases have been dealt with so far, of which 63,000 immigrants have been told they could stay." (Notice they don't say that "more than 135,000 immigrants have been told they have to leave.") Given that these 'legacy cases' we first revealed by the government 3 years ago, they certainly seem to have fallen a bit behind on their schedule.
However, given the stink that was kicked up by the Telegraph [1, 2] and Mail when it was announced that extra staff were being taken on to help deal with the problem and what happened when ministers changed the guidelines to simplify procedures where people were from countries excluded from the government's White List of 'safe' countries, it looks like a no-win situation for Nu Labour. On the other hand, given that the Mail was claiming in 2006 that it would take "25 years to remove them all", they might not be as useless as the Tories claim they are.