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The children who can’t afford to be British

Daniel and Emmanuel are far from the only children whose families are being ground down by the process of obtaining citizenship and the £1012 fee. Academic researchers have estimated that there are around 120,000 children in the UK without British citizenship and that about 65,000 of those were born in the UK.

Before the British Nationality Act 1981, anyone born in the UK was born British. The act ended this and so today, someone born in the UK is only a British citizen if one of their parents is a British citizen or one of their parents is settled in the UK (having settled status does not mean being a British citizen – it means that you have indefinite leave to remain in the country).

Being blocked from citizenship by the high Home Office fee opens up the possibility that these children will suffer the same fate as the Windrush generation, including being expelled from the United Kingdom, which is their home. This could happen, Solange and Steve Valdez-Symonds say, at any time in their lives. It could also leave them being excluded from any number of services and opportunities, from renting accommodation to receiving healthcare to accessing higher education.

There is, of course, a significant racial dimension to this, with British society still resistant to the idea that children of colour born and brought up in Britain, whose ancestors usually resided in British colonies and who may very well have suffered great injustices as a result, are just as British as their white counterparts.

In 1948, the British Nationality Act established the principle of “Civis Britannicus Sum”: that anyone born in the empire had the rights of British citizenship. As a result, the former subjects of the British Empire came to the motherland as supposedly equal citizens. In response to the racism they faced, the phrase “We are here because you were there” became a striking anti-racist slogan.

But from 1948 onwards, successive immigration acts have sought to curtail the rights of British nationals and to make it harder to become British. The Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962 imposed tighter controls and was branded a piece of “cruel and brutal anti-colour legislation” by the then-Labour leader Hugh Gaitskell.

Today, in the wake of the Windrush scandal and ongoing questions about what will happen to EU nationals now that Brexit is to go ahead, the High Court’s ruling gives some hope to Daniel’s father, Femi.

“It sounds positive”, says Femi, who is also being represented by Solange Valdez-Symonds. “I felt hopeful when I heard the news that something could happen. My son was born here and he has always been here. I hope that this will be recognised.”

For more information on the High Court case and how it came about, tune into our podcast interview with Steve Valdez-Symonds which can be found here.

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