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Campaign to Regularize Undocumented Immigrants Gathers Pace in Britain

A campaign to give legal recognition to Britain's working illegal migrants is gathering pace, but while it seems to have popular support, the government needs to be convinced before going along. Tendai Maphosa has more in this VOA report from London, where a rally was held Monday.

Hundreds of supporters of the "Strangers into Citizens" campaign to legalize the status of Britain's estimated one-half-million illegal immigrants and failed asylum seekers gathered in London's Trafalgar Square. The campaign describes itself as the largest alliance of civic institutions advocating legal status for the workers.

Those present heard leaders of various religions, representatives of member organizations, and migrants who have legal status make their case for legal status, or regularization as they call it in Britain. All said working undocumented migrants are already contributing to the economy, and pointed out amnesties elsewhere have benefited the governments.

Austen Ivereigh is the coordinator of Strangers into Citizens.

"Regularization across Europe has brought huge revenues to the state, the Institute of Public Policy and Research calculates that the benefits to the exchequer would be a billion pounds ($2 billion) in currently unpaid taxes," he noted. "There is no doubt that regularization brings huge benefits economically and fiscally; clears asylum backlogs, clears bureaucratic logjams, frees up the economy, frees up employers to employ the people that they want to and simply makes sense for everybody."

Ivereigh added that regularization also makes sense because it would cost more than nine-billion dollars to deport all undocumented people. The exercise would take 25 years.

While immigration is currently one of the hottest political topics across Europe, the results of a recent study by the Opinion Research Business shows that two out of three Britons are in favor of regularization. Ivereigh dismissed the fear that the one-off regularization would open the floodgates for more immigrants.

The group Strangers into Citizens proposes that only undocumented migrants who have been in the United Kingdom for at least four years be allowed to work for two years. After getting an employer reference they could then be granted leave to remain.

Politicians from across the political divide are also weighing in. About 40 members of parliament have signed on to a motion to have undocumented migrants regularized.

Labour Party Parliament Member Jon Cruddas acknowledges the motion is only the beginning of a long battle.

"It is a campaigning tool; the point about this is the invisibility of the people concerned, we will get them a greater profile in parliament itself," he said. "We will call debates in parliament as well already we have had all three major parties different representatives sign up for it, the Trades Union movement here have been fantastic, the church community, Strangers into Citizens, we are building a coalition to articulate these issues."

It is early yet for the Strangers into Citizens Campaign but the participants are hoping that they can build a groundswell of public opinion the government cannot ignore.