I was absolutely gutted to reported here on the BBC that the Immigration Advisory Service has gone into administration. I've had many dealings with them over the years and they have always been incredibly helpful. It saddens me to think of the massively overworked staff being suddenly propelled into unemployment.
In Scotland, the IAS had an office in Glasgow and they did a free telephone advice day on a Wednesday. This was a lifeline to many people who had immigration related problems. The immigration rules in this country are extremely complicated and the UK Border Agency does not always treat people fairly. A free advisory service to those most in need is vital.
You may remember that my friend Juliette Frangos wrote a few months ago of her concerns as a lawyer in a law centre about the cuts in Legal Aid. A situation where the most vulnerable can't access the law is not acceptable in a liberal society and a brush with the immigration system can mean the difference between life and death.
How many times have we heard of people like Janipher Maseko, the teenage mother thrown into Yarl's Wood and separated from her breastfeeding baby, or Mehdi Kazemi, the gay asylum seeker threatened with deportation to Iran. Thankfully both these stories ended with them being able to stay in this country, but how many others don't get the help they need?
I could tell you no end of stories where the UK Border Agency went against its own policies or made decisions that were just plain wrong. They aren't mine to tell, though, so I can't give you the details. Just take my word that if it hadn't been for organisations like the Immigration Advisory Service and an MP willing to go into battle on their behalf, the people concerned would have suffered even more than they did.
Imagine the stress of facing a terminal illness and your sister is refused entrance to this country - and her appeal is unlikely to be heard before you die. Imagine the fear of being told you have to live apart from your husband or wife, possibly for months or years on end. Imagine being told you have to make an expensive and potentially dangerous foreign trip to apply for a visa because of a mix up. These sorts of things happen every day and it's vital that people have someone they can go to for advice that doesn't cost the earth when they need it.
It's vital that funds are found from somewhere to keep IAS or something very like it going. IAS always had more clients on its books than it could comfortably deal with - it needed to be expanded not closed.