By Stan Crooke
It is a sign of how debased the political “discussion” about immigration has become that Home Secretary John Reid can so proudly set out his plan to make life “constrained and uncomfortable” for illegal immigrants. He wants to stop them getting “housing, healthcare or work”. Put another way, he wants to make them homeless, ill (or perhaps dead) and unemployed. It is the kind of stuff that the BNP would welcome.
What’s the detail of the plan?
The “new strategy” involves co-operation between the Immigration Department, Inland Revenue, local authorities, the NHS, benefits agencies, the police and employers, in order to “progressively deny work, benefits and services to those here illegally.”
In fact, there is nothing in the least bit new about such “co-operation.”
Far more than under the Tories, a central element of Labour’s immigration policies since 1997 has been to transform agencies such as schools, universities, hospitals, Jobcentres and employers into an auxiliary Immigration Service, by requiring them to check the immigration status of their client groups and employees.
The government’s announcement simply amounted to tightening the screw – still further – on those in an irregular immigration status.
A “watch list” of illegal immigrants is to be compiled by the Immigration Department. The list will be circulated to other government departments and local authorities so that they deny services to anyone named on the list and bring them to the attention of the immigration authorities. Compulsory ID cards are also to be introduced for foreign nationals.
Joint regional teams involving staff from Inland Revenue, the Department of Works and Pensions and the DTI are to crack down on illegal working. Pilots are to be run in three NHS trusts to test schemes to prevent migrants from receiving medical treatment to which they are not legally entitled. And the Driving and Vehicle Licensing Agency is also to be used to track down illegal immigrants.
A further element in this “new strategy” involves local authorities being empowered to impose fines of up to £20,000 on private sector landlords who rent out overcrowded accommodation.
The fact that a crackdown on overcrowded accommodation is part of a crackdown on illegal immigrants tells you something about “the benefits” which the latter actually enjoy from being in Britain illegally.
In a television interview about the “new strategy” Home Secretary John Reid said that it would target “foreigners who come to this country illegally and steal our benefits.”
Even the Tories had no problem in pointing out that illegal immigrants are not interested in claiming poverty-level benefits. What they want to do is work, even if for only rock-bottom wages — but which are a lot higher than anything they could find in their own countries.
According Reid, the “new strategy” will “tackle the root cause of the problem: exploitation.” It will “respond to the individual needs of the communities” and “make life in this country ever more uncomfortable and constrained for those who come here illegally.”
But the real “root cause” of “the problem” is not exploitation. It is poverty on an international scale. The exploitation of foreign workers – which obviously benefits the employer rather than the worker — is the result, not the cause. Poverty drives people to look for work abroad, and immigration controls then push them into illegality, leaving them exposed to super-exploitation by employers.
Although no-one knows for sure, there are probably around half a million people in this country in an irregular immigration status, many of whom have been here now for several years. Instead of tightening the screw on them still further, the government should give them the right to stay and let them carry on working.
This “amnesty” would of course is not a radical demand, it would just be the start. It would still leave in place the immigration controls which deny people the right to move around the world in search of work and a better life.
But an “amnesty” — the right to stay —would free those working illegally in the UK from the risk of removal if they speak up and organise against intolerable working conditions.
The government’s refusal so far to consider such measures is just another indication of the extent to which it systematically accommodates to tabloid-led racism and xenophobia.