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A Tory minister’s revenge operation?

In the UK illegally?Mark Harper, the Immigration minister notorious for the racist “In the UK illegally? Go home or face arrest” vans who left the Government in February, is back in office. After just six months on the back benches, he returns to the Coalition as Minister of State at the DWP.

He resigned from the government earlier this year after it emerged that a cleaner he had employed since 2007 did not have permission to work in the UK. The minister, responsible for a draconian anti-immigration measure which would increase sanctions on employers who did not check the immigration papers of their employees, re-checked the immigration status of Isabella Acevedo, who had an unblemished work record, and then shopped her to immigration enforcement officials.

Harper is Conservative MP for the Forest of Dean. He was a keen supporter of the forest’s privatisation, a policy which necessitated his rescue by police when a public meeting in the area turned ugly in 2011. He will be pleased as punch to be back earning a ministerial salary of over £100,000 again.

Ms Acevedo, however, has not been so lucky. Earlier this month, she was arrested at Haringey Town Hall in north London minutes before her daughter’s wedding by 15 – yes, fifteen – immigration officers and five police officers. She was forcibly marched to a van and driven away, according to witnesses, in an operation which Home Affairs Select Committee Chair Keith Vaz compared to the Keystone Kops. The Guardian further reported:

The bride and groom were questioned before being told by the officers that the ceremony could not go ahead because of an alleged discrepancy in their paperwork. Registrars later said they were happy that the couples’ papers were in order and proceeded with the ceremony, though without Acevedo present.”

Ms Acevedo now awaits deportation to Colombia in Yarl’s Wood detention centre, a privatised facility that has been beset by controversy, including allegations of sexual abuse by the male staff. In a telephone interview with Channel 4 News she said that she felt she had  been humiliated. She worked for Harper for seven years for less than £10 an hour, payment which the minister claimed back from parliamentary expenses.

Supporters of her campaign to stay in the UK picketed Harper’s apartment which she cleaned for seven years, highlighting the disparity between the promotion of the minister and the deportation of his cleaner. There will be a further picket of Heathrow Terminal 5 at 7pm on Thursday 24th July, from where she is due to be deported.

As commentator Ian Dunt observed:

This bears all the hallmarks of a revenge operation, an attempt to punish Acevedo for embarrassing a minister. Her daughter will always remember that scene when she looks back on her wedding day.

Even a few years ago such an operation would have been unthinkable. Officers adopted a more consensual, nuanced approach. They would not have targeted a wedding unless they were convinced it was a sham marriage. The operation would not have been timed to maximise the anguish of the target.

This is part of a worrying trend in immigration enforcement, typified by the Go Home vans, aggressive and large-scale raids on workplaces and the placing of immigration officers at London tube stations last summer. Worryingly, it seems that as standards slip in the processing of immigration claims and the asylum backlog, the Home Office is making up for it with an increasingly militarised and bullying enforcement operation more reminiscent of a South American dictatorship than a leading western democracy.”

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