Immigration: a hostile act

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The government's new bill aims to create a "hostile environment" for illegal migrants. Alan Gibson looks at the measures in the proposed law and how it will target all migrants and serve to stoke up racism.


What is the declared aim of the bill?

To create a "hostile environment for illegal migrants". This will be done by forcing landlords, NHS staff and public servants, and bank staff, to check the immigration status of migrants who are potential tenants, users of NHS services, appliers for a driving licence or a bank account. Other proposed measures include a drastic reduction in rights of appeal and bail, and a denial of the right of appeal prior to deportation.

What will the residential measures mean?

Landlords will be faced with such a complex task that they are likely to turn away anyone who looks like a migrant or speaks with a foreign accent - whether they have the right documentation or not - for fear of incurring a £3,000 fine if they provide accommodation to "illegal immigrants". Just how complex it is can be judged from the 89-page guidance given to employers to enable them to check the status of job applicants.

Many people who have been given the right to remain in the UK often do not have their documentation available because it has been lodged with the Home Office - a body notorious for sitting on papers. Those turned away will resort to finding accommodation from rogue landlords, increasing the scandal of "beds in sheds". Racial discrimination will increase.

What will the NHS measures mean?

Following outlandish figures provided by the aptly named Creative Research that suggests migrants are burying their noses in a trough of NHS free care, the government proposes to charge undocumented migrants whenever they use NHS services. It also proposes that people who come to the UK to stay for six to 12 months pay £200 upon their arrival.

This means already overworked NHS staff, and particularly administrative staff at GPs' surgeries, will face the task of judging whether or not a migrant should be charged for any care they receive. Even worse, many migrants - both documented and undocumented - are liable to stop seeking NHS care as a result of the measures, increasing their own vulnerability to illness. Racial discrimination will increase.

What will measures regarding driving licences and bank accounts mean?

Again DVLA staff and bank tellers will be tasked with acting like border guards, demanding that anyone who looks or speaks like a migrant provides documentation before serving them. Racial discrimination will increase.

What will measures to restrict rights to appeal and bail mean?

The government proposes to cut the 17 current immigration decisions that can be appealed to four. Even worse, it proposes to stop migrants appealing against their deportation, claiming any further legal process be carried out from the country to which they are deported. This will hit migrants seeking to appeal against erroneous immigration decisions.

Just how erroneous is highlighted by the fact that nearly 50 percent of the appeals last year against Home Office decisions regarding rights to remain in the UK were successful, as were 32 percent of appeals against deportation. The figures are not surprising given just how complex immigration law has become over the past 20 years of successive governments - both Tory and Labour - continually upping the ante on immigrants and asylum seekers.

In a further nasty twist, the government also proposes to reduce the scope of the Human Rights legislation by incorporating into the bill an "understanding" that judges give "little weight" to migrants' appeals on the basis of their family life in the UK. This means there will be more cases of husbands and fathers being deported, leaving their wives and children behind in this country.

Given the above, what is the true aim of the bill?

With the anti-immigrant Ukip threatening to damage significantly the electoral chances of all three mainstream political parties, the true aim of the bill is to create a "hostile environment" not just for illegal immigrants, but for all migrants and anyone who looks or speaks like a migrant. And given that migrants are normally presented in the media as either black or Asian, the bill will increase anti-black racism and Islamophobia.

Nor will it stop "illegal" immigration. As the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants says: "Most of the measures will not serve to reduce the numbers of undocumented entrants coming to the UK nor will they serve to force people already here to leave, because desperate people who choose to come here in a clandestine way do not do so for the lure of a driving licence or the prospect of signing a tenancy. They live under the radar of the authority."