“Why do you sound so British?” the immigration officer asked 15-year-old Ijeoma Moore as she followed orders to pack her and her 10-year-old brother’s clothes. Officers had entered their North London home as they were eating breakfast that morning in 2010, getting ready to leave for school. “Because I am British,” the teenager retorted.
What else could she be? She had lived in the UK since she was two years old. She loves tea and toast, the Royal family and “stupid telly.” But technically, Moore was an undocumented migrant. Her Mum had been sinking money into application after application to the Home Office, but they had all been rejected.
Moore was bundled into the back of the officers’ van with her brother and Dad. Still wearing her school uniform, she felt like she was watching someone else’s life on TV. They were taken to an immigration detention centre, where she narrowly avoided deportation three times until their father was sent to Nigeria and the children were released to foster care. “I had to grow up really quick and become like a Mum to my brother,” Moore says.
A decade later, Moore is still not a British citizen. Unless the rules change again, or she runs out of money to pay the soaring fees, or she loses a document from the required stack of evidence, or the Home Office does, she will officially become British when she turns 33 — 31 years after she arrived in the UK and picked up a cockney accent at an East London nursery.
In the UK and across the rest of Europe, millions of young people who grew up feeling British or French or Italian or just European, live in a state of limbo, the threat of deportation hanging over them.
In the US, they are known as the “dreamers.” Over two decades, a movement led by young undocumented youth has become associated with the American Dream, winning broad public and bipartisan political support. While t…