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Steve Cohen


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I was very sad to hear that Steve Cohen has died. Some of the obituaries that have been published so far can be found here:

Indymedia London

Red Pepper

Institute of Race Relations

Steve Cohen was one of the legendary giants of immigration law. I never met him nor did I know him personally. He sounds like he was irascible and challenging as a person (and probably would have been happy to be described as such), but his enormous contribution to the immigration debate and to the lives of those he helped is undoubted. He founded the Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit (GMIAU) and was a very serious proponent of the no borders philosophy. I have read Deportation Is Freedom and found it enlightening and intellectually challenging. I would recommend it to anyone with more than a passing interest in immigration controls.

deportationisfreedomHe also co-authored the No One Is Illegal Manifesto in 2003. It is a short document but I will include an extract for easy reference:

“Many of those critical of controls believe that such controls can somehow be sanitized, be rendered fair, be made non-racist. Even socialists are sometimes reluctant to raise the demand for the abolition of all immigration controls or to take this demand to its logical conclusions, in case this alienates potential allies against the abuses that follow from them. The result is that the argument against controls is simply not presented. Many people, perhaps most fair-minded people, if they are presented with the case, do agree that in principle immigration controls are wrong, but may also believe that to argue for their abolition is unrealistic.

But ideas matter and so too does the struggle for ideas. Wrong ideas can at best lead to confusion and dead-ends and at worst collusion with the present system. It is our position — a position which denies anyone is illegal, a position that is for a world without borders — that immigration restrictions can never be rendered fair or non-racist. This is for the following reasons. First controls are inherently racist in that they are based on the crudest of all nationalisms — namely the assertion that the British have a franchise on Britain. Second they are only explicable by racism. Their imposition is a result of and is a victory for racist, proto-fascist and actual fascist organizations. It is impossible to see how legislation brought into being by such means, legislation accompanied by the most vile racist imagery and assumptions, can ever be reconfigured and rendered “fair”. Third the demand for “fair” controls simply ignores the link between immigration controls and welfare entitlements. This link is itself intrinsically unfair — and racist. Finally controls can never be “fair” to those who remain subject to them.

The demand for no controls — based on the assertion that no one is illegal — is frequently derided as utopian and is compared adversely to the “realism” of arguing for fair controls. However this stands political reality on its head. The struggle against the totality of controls is certainly uphill — it may well require a revolution. However the achievement of fair immigration restrictions — that is the transformation of immigration controls into their opposite — would require a miracle.”

Cohen points out how recent immigration controls and notions of nationality really are in human history. The first immigration controls were only introduced in 1905 and effective controls were not introduced until after the Second World War.

It often strikes me as absurd that the British take for granted their right to travel and live all around the world but refuse the right of reciprocation. It is difficult to see what the difference is between an English person moving to Scotland and an Icelandic or Japanese person moving there – why is one of those movements as of right, but not the other? What defines ‘English’ or ‘Japanese’? In years to come the false premise that the artificial legal contruct of ‘nationality’ is a valid way to differentiate and discriminate between one human being and another will become as unacceptable as the idea that notions of gender or race are valid justifications for the allocation of different rights and entitlements.

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The Free Movement blog was founded in 2007 by Colin Yeo, a barrister at Garden Court Chambers specialising in immigration law. The blog provides updates and commentary on immigration and asylum law by a variety of authors.


2 Responses

  1. of course, the reason that the british can take their free movement for granted but deny reciprocity is that they ignore history. it is not simply that immigration controls are racist, it is rather that the european colonial legacy (of which the idea of state and nation are one aspect) is a world that is at every level stratified into different classes of humanity. the immigration system is a zone of exceptionality, where the normal laws and rights of citizens are suspended, to separate the qualified persons from the bare life of the excluded.