Dr Ernesto Schwartz-Marin is a Mexican anthropologist, based at Durham University, who has been living in the UK since 2007. He is married to Dr Arely Cruz-Santiago – also an academic at Durham. They have an 11 year-old daughter who has only ever known life in the UK. On Saturday, 10 March 2018, Ernesto received a letter from the Home Office telling him and his family to leave the UK within 14 days. The Home Office have threatened to remove him.
In 2014 Ernesto and Arely were awarded a grant by the Economic and Social Research Council, a body funded by our Government, to build a DNA database to help families locate the tens or hundreds of thousands of people who have been ‘disappeared’ in the drug wars in Mexico. Between June 2014 and July 2015 they spent 270 days in Mexico working to build a DNA database to help identify remains. Details of their project can be seen in this Al-Jazeera report.
Speaking in Mexico in 2016 Pope Francis said:
“We cannot deny the humanitarian crisis which in recent years has meant migration for thousands of people, whether by train or highway or on foot, crossing hundreds of kilometers through mountains, deserts and inhospitable zones. The human tragedy that is forced migration is a global phenomenon today. This crisis which can be measured in numbers and statistics, we want instead to measure with names, stories, families. They are the brothers and sisters of those expelled by poverty and violence, by drug trafficking and criminal organizations.”
It is because of their work in Mexico to "measure with names, stories, families" the victims of this humanitarian crisis that Ernesto and his family now face deportation.
Under UK Tier 2 visa guidelines, non-EU migrants cannot spend more than 180 days abroad, unless they are “attending to a national or international humanitarian or environmental crisis”. The Home Office refuses to accept his work involves a humanitarian crisis. And it refuses to make an exception to guidelines for fieldwork carried out abroad – even where our own Government funds that research. Those guidelines risk turning our world class Universities - which should be flag-bearers for a global, outward-facing Britain - into small, inward-looking institutions.
Ernesto and his family are not alone. There are many like him, many academics and professionals who have built their lives here, culturally enriched our society with their presence, taught our children, paid their taxes but who are now actively threatened with deportation for doing their fieldwork or research abroad. Many others refuse research opportunities abroad for fear of deportation. People like Ernesto and Arely are not, as Theresa May called them, “citizens of nowhere”. They simply recognise that the world does not end at our shores.
The Home Office’s approach benefits no-one. Not the individuals and not our society. It is both cruel and it is self-defeating.
Please watch this BBC Look North report on Ernesto's case. And note the unyielding threat from the Home Office with which it concludes: "If you don't leave then you will be removed."
Theresa May has promised: "We will continue to attract the brightest and best to work or study here". But the policies her Government pursues actively discourage such people from coming. Indeed, as Ernesto and his family prove, those policies force them to leave.
The initial fundraising target will cover the costs of challenging the deportation of Ernesto and his family using leading specialist immigration lawyers. If we can raise more we will use that money to challenge other high profile cases involving mistreatment by the Home Office of our colleagues and our friends and our neighbours and our family members and our lovers.
Whatever contribution you can spare will help send a message to the Home Office, to the xenophobic and divisive policies of this Government, and to the rest of the world: “we stand together.”
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