Emma DeSouza: ‘You can’t get on with your life’
Nationality case against UK has been ‘all consuming’, Irish woman says
Emma DeSouza and her husband Jake. The couple spoke of being “devastated” at the UK immigration tribunal ruling and the “personal cost” of the long-running legal battle. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Emma DeSouza and her US-born husband Jake thought someone at the UK Home Office had made a mistake when it refused him a residence card in 2016 because she had not renounced her British citizenship.
Their application had been lodged on the basis that Emma, from Magherafelt in Co Derry, was an Irish national, as is her right under the 1998 Belfast Agreement, an international peace treaty.
The Home Office said she first had to renounce her status as a British citizen and could then reapply.
“Until that status is renounced, she is as a matter of fact a British citizen,” the Home Office told him in its September 2016 letter.
The couple were puzzled.
“We thought it was a clerical error and it would be quickly overturned because everyone in Northern Ireland could be Irish or British or both,” the Derry woman said.
An Irish woman being automatically identified as British was at odds, they felt, with the 1998 agreement protecting the Derry woman’s birthright to be Irish.
It was not an error by the Home Office.
“We just felt that they couldn’t get away with that and that nobody else should have to go through it. The whole thing just shouldn’t be happening,” she told The Irish Times.
Four years after first applying, a UK immigration tribunal this week backed the Home Office. The couple spoke of being “devastated” at the ruling and the “personal cost” of the long-running legal battle.
The Home Office had Jake DeSouza’s passport for almost two years and warned that if he left the country his application would be void.
“The biggest loss will always remain that we did not get to see my husband’s grandmother before she passed away. We had three months of her on her deathbed,” she said.
“We knew she wasn’t going to make it. Over those three months we tried desperately to get Jake out of the country.”
The case has been “all consuming” in their lives, she said, with “the impending doom of another court case somewhere in the distance”.
“You can’t get on with your life and be a normal married couple,” said Emma.
Despite the toll taken on the couple, they are determined to continue fighting their case.
“When you have invested four years, it is definitely not something that you are going to walk away from,” she said.
DeSouza feels that this week’s ruling sets a precedent that “rewrites” a key provision of the Belfast Agreement and could restrict the rights of people in Northern Ireland post-Brexit.
“There are all kinds of knock-on effects from that judgment that really put us in a position where we have no choice but to appeal it,” she said.