Immigration - deporting responsibility

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"We need a tougher immigration policy and we need to stop seeing it as a dilemma. It's not. It's easy. I'm going to do my best to help the British back to work." These are the words of Labour immigration minister Phil Woolas.

His comments appeared in an interview with the Independent in which he perversely described his commitment to booting out migrants as the logical conclusion of his lifelong fight against racism. "It's been too easy to get into this country in the past and it's going to get harder," he added.

The comments came in the wake of the minister arguing for a stricter policy on keeping foreigners out to prevent them being blamed for people's declining living standards during a recession. Woolas claims to have got involved in politics at the age of 16 through the Anti Nazi League, but now seems to think that legitimising the views of the far right, and meeting them half way, is the best way to combat them.

"If you're here legally you should have access to the NHS. If you are here illegally or - what's the word we use? - clandestinely, you shouldn't. It's a national health service - it's not an international health service," he continued. Presumably letting migrants go without healthcare would lead to a few more leaving - albeit in coffins.

"When immigrants get here I think we're cruel to them as a society and I want to turn that around," he continued, the irony presumably lost on him. "I think [the immigration system] has been too lenient and I want to make it harder, but I also want to be nice to people who do come to settle here."

But Woolas doesn't stop there. What about Muslims, another primary target of the far right? "People wear veils for different reasons... It should be up to them, but at school you shouldn't wear one." So, up to them unless the government disagrees. After all, what would Muslims know?

The message boards of the Daily Mail were full of the usual foaming-mouthed responses to the minister's comments - the vast majority getting upset over the problem outlined by Woolas, but demanding far more radical action on the issue. It doesn't take a giant leap of the imagination to see where this can lead.

It is also somewhat of a change of strategy for Woolas. In August 2006 he toured the country as part of a "Tackling Extremism" road show - a process of "consultation" with Muslims. At his stop in Bolton he dismissed a suggestion, put to him from the floor, that British foreign policy might be partly responsible for extremism as "nonsense" and "crap". It's a pity he couldn't direct the same sort of language towards those on the right seeking to scapegoat immigrants for a crisis brought on by the greed of the hyper-rich, aided and abetted by Woolas and his government.