As a former student of Dr Dan Wilsher during my LLB days at City, when I read on the Lawbore events section that he had recently written a new book on Immigration detention, the launch of which would be at City, I found myself compelled to attend. Despite continuing on at City Law School to do the LPC, this would be my first opportunity to go back to ‘old City’, to meet with some of my old teachers and to be part of an academic celebration.
The mood as people filtered into the room was jubilant despite the book’s sombre topic. There was a great sense of anticipation to hear about Dr Wilsher’s work and it was positive to see a mixture of people in attendance, from students to academics to those in other professional fields.
Sir Nicholas Blake QC and Professor Elspeth Guild joined Dr Wilsher in presenting to us on the night. The presentations moved from a brief history of the immigration situation, to praise for the new book, to discussing what the future was for such immigration matters in the UK.
Indeed immigration law is in and out of the headlines frequently, although immigration detention itself is not something so greatly focused on. The event gave an opportunity to discuss and consider this other side of immigration law. The importance of balancing justice and secure borders was refreshing to hear.
Dr Wilsher gave a brief but lively talk about the focus of his book , aided with some powerful images on PowerPoint. Though brief, it was clear to tell his passion for the subject (A passion which, as an immigration teacher, I strongly feel he has passed on to his students!). He started by giving a short historical analysis of immigration detention in Britain and USA. One notable example was about the practice of disallowing immigrants from even stepping out of the ship when it arrived to the destination. The immigrants would be imprisoned on the ship and when the ship departed on a new journey, they would inevitably be on it. It is fair to say all of the audience was drawn in as Dr Wilsher explained the details of such detention measures.
Another interesting point covered by Dr Wilsher was how certain places of detention were deemed to be part of ‘the dream’. Places such as Ellis Island of New York, a detention island, which came to be known as the “Beacon of Liberty”, because despite being a detention centre the immigrants saw it as a gateway to America. I found myself comparing this to similar modern day stories I had experienced on work experience and realised that this was the sentiment of many immigrants. Yet, Dr Wilsher also made sure we understood the often harsh and inhuman treatment the detained face and the legal challenges that arise with all the ‘people in limbo’. The severity of the matter was at times heartbreaking to hear.
Professor Elspeth Guild was Dr Wilsher’s supervisor during his PHD studies, which resulted in the book. She praised the research done, explaining the importance of the work and the significance of the time in which it is being published. Professor Guild spoke avidly about balancing justice with security. It was clear that she held Human Rights in high esteem and sought to make the audience also understand how immigration detention linked to it. Perhaps the most poignant moment of the evening was when she said that she wouldn’t need to ask us to name the nationalities of people that were being caught under detention, as those that we probably guessed would be right. As she boldly stated: “Immigration is the code of law we all know- we all know who it ought to affect- but whose liberties are we willing to sacrifice?!”
Sir Nicholas Blake QC, a barrister and now judge on immigration cases, was involved in redrafting the bail guidelines for detained immigrants. He discussed the practical workings of the law and the future of Immigration Detention. He explained the ad-hoc decision making that had previously taken place in detaining immigrants and how this resulted in judges seeking to offer guidelines which would better serve justice. It was a great opportunity to hear from someone with a wealth of experience in the field about the practicalities and realities about immigration detention and the important role that judges play in the difficult process. His realistic attitude to the law was encouraging to see.
Overall, the event to launch Dr Wilsher’s newly published book, ‘Immigration Detention: Law, History, Politics” was a great opportunity to listen to a refreshing and humanistic discussion about the reality of the situation. The audience was drawn in to the focus point of the research and it is clear to see why the subject is of such importance. At a time when Immigration Law is being scrutinised as being too weak and not doing the job, as the speakers explained, the issue is more layered and such a book is timely in helping many understand the truth about the matter, away from the one dimensional headlines.
Congratulations to Dr Wilsher on this book and on behalf of all those highly interested in the progression of Immigration Law, I thank you for adding to the academic literature on the subject.
Anjum Kasmani is an LPC student at The City Law School, after completing her LLB at the same institution in May 2011.