Is My Citizenship A Right Or A Privilege?

Is My Citizenship A Right Or A Privilege?
In reading about this bill for the first time, I remember a conversation my grandfather had with my mother, nearly ten years ago. We were in the same flat that my grandfather had moved into when he immigrated, it was where he made his life, raised his children and where his grandchildren could often be found, and it was in that place that he said to my mother:

“One day they’ll just kick us out.”

The threat of citizenship deprivation is an already terrifying prospect. However the possibility of one’s citizenship being removed with little to no notice, creates a fear of a heightened level. Imagine suddenly being stripped of the rights you have grown up having, being refused entry to a place you have spent your entire life in, and having little power to defend yourself. This is the bill being debated in the U.K government, and if passed, clause nine of the bill will give the Home Secretary the ability to give no notice of citizenship removal to the individual if they deem that notifying them will be a threat to national security, not in the public interest, or merely an inconvenience. It is a reflection of the all too real rising anti-immigrant sentiments of the U.K government and public.


This bill, proposed by Home Secretary Priti Patel, has passed through the House of Commons, meaning that the U.K’s elected Members of Parliament (MPs) believe that it is an appropriate measure. Most votes came from the party which forms the majority government, the Conservative Party, with a vote of 298 votes to 231. Now, the bill is under scrutiny by the House of Lords, a chamber that holds up to 800 unelected members, acting as a check on the elected government’s powers. Should the bill pass the stages of scrutiny by the House of Lords, going through a process nicknamed ‘ping pong’ (referring to the to and fro of amendments between these two chambers), it could become law by this summer.


In reading about this bill for the first time, I remember a conversation my grandfather had with my mother, nearly ten years ago. We were in the same flat that my grandfather had moved into when he immigrated, it was where he made his life, raised his children and where his grandchildren could often be found, and it was in that place that he said to my mother: 


“One day they’ll just kick us out.”                                                                                                          


How hard it was to believe such a thing, and how it squirmed into my head as a young child as I wondered why my grandfather would say such a sad thing, imagining myself leaving behind my friends, games and books, being forced to go to Pakistan.


I believe most children of immigrants or refugees have heard these words at some point in their lives, and while many may have simply dismissed or forgotten them, I spent most of my teenage years flipping those words in my head, trying to learn more about my grandfather’s history as well as my government’s. In doing so, it slowly became clear why he believed in those words; he lived through the partition of India in 1947, leaving behind his Indian nationality and settling in the newly formed Pakistan as a child. As a young man, he responded to Britain’s call for workers, leaving all he had known to work for a nation that for over a century colonized his home country- all for a better life. In Britain, he watched as the policies of the government which welcomed him, slowly, systematically, became anti-immigrant, ultimately playing a role in the Brexit vote in 2016. Then the Windrush scandal in 2018 which threatened the deportation of thousands of Caribbean U.K residents, who had lived for  decades in the U.K as tax-paying citizens. In 2019 He watched the removal of Shamima Begum’s citizenship, done by a man with the same skin color as him. Now he was witnessing the introduction of a bill that would create a second class of citizens for his children and grandchildren due to their dual nationality.


While the power to strip a person of their citizenship exists in many democracies, it is typically considered a power only used in certain circumstances, such as in response to national threats like espionage. To use this power against Shamima Begum, a young woman who was groomed online at the age of fifteen into leaving her home to support a violent, radical terrorist group is cruel and egregious. It suggests that the government is washing their hands of her when they should’ve focused on rectifying their failure to protect her. Why is it acceptable to punish a groomed teenager in such a cold manner? To shove the responsibility into the hands of another nation, rather than giving her the right to a fair trial in the country she was born in?


Since the early 2000s, the Home Secretary’s ability to strip a person of their citizenship has slowly become an easier process, in 2014, for example citizenship could be removed even if it caused statelessness. Such was the case of Shamima Begum, despite being born in the UK and not in possession of a foreign passport. It was argued by the government that she was ‘technically’ a Bangladeshi citizen as she had dual nationality due to her parent’s heritage in Bangladesh. Begum’s case played a key role in the development of Priti Patel’s Nationality and Borders Bill and severed to fan the flames of anti-immigrant and anti-muslim sentiments in the UK public. It should be noted that even before the introduction of this bill, the U.K, in comparison to other G20 countries (Compromised of 20 of the world’s largest economies), already had significantly more powers to enact the deprivation of citizenship, and the UK’s exercise of this power has significantly increased, from 14 people being stripped in 2016 to 104 in 2017.


In summary, The bill essentially increases the powers of the Home Secretary, allowing them to remove a person’s citizenship without their notice, severely jeopardizing their right to a fair trial or consul. Moreover, these new powers are described in especially vague terminology, creating an unconstitutional power that allows the Home Secretary to act on their discretion with very little to constrain them, removing the checks and balances in this process as ultimately one person, the Home Secretary, is making the decision. In an analysis done of the UK census for England and Wales, it was found that should the bill pass, nearly 6 million people will be eligible, with half being of asian descent, with only one in twenty of those with a white background affected.  The ability to remove citizenship was already a powerful threat hanging over already marginalized communities in the UK, and this bill only threatens to further the divide between the groups. The Home Office may have said that British citizenship is a privilege, not a right, but this bill makes it fundamentally clear that this is not the case, constructing this notion of black and brown peoples’ “Britishness” as fragile and precarious in comparison to their white counterparts.


Editors: Amshu V., Amena N.

This article was originally written in February 2022

Image Credits: Vuk Valcic/SOPA Images/REX/Shutterstock