Schools, hospitals and now banks – where will the ‘hostile environment’ end?
Theresa May’s pet project of creating a ‘hostile environment’ towards migrants took a turn for the worse today. Home Secretary Amber Rudd announced that checks on 70 million bank accounts will start in the new year, and banks found providing banking services to irregular migrants will be penalised.
This new development is an extension of measures initiated by Theresa May when she was Home Secretary back in 2012. Other parts of the strategy include threatening landlords with prison sentences if they are found to let rooms or properties to undocumented migrants, stopping the undocumented from getting driving licences, accessing public services, including hospital and essential medical care, allowing the children of undocumented migrants education and raiding workplaces suspected of employing undocumented migrants.
Apart from the impacts of this harassment on migrant communities, the measures are also forcing thousands of service-providers to accept responsibilities that were previously part of the jobs of immigration officers.
These measures will not discourage irregular immigration – the factors leading to such movement of people are primarily ‘push’ factors – war, poverty, environmental and livelihood destruction. There are no recorded cases of someone deciding against fleeing a desperate situation in their country of origin on the basis that they might not get a driving licence in their target destination country.
Making public sector workers, bank and DVLA workers, landlords and employers check immigration statutes is an onerous responsibility which is a recipe for abuse and racism. The Home Office itself frequently holds the passports of overseas students for months whilst processing them. If they were to approach a landlord with an overseas accent and no passport, it would not be surprising if they were turned down in favour of others when the accommodation was let.
Immigration lawyers will tell anyone who will listen the complexities involved in checking someone’s status, how many documents might have to be referred to and how often the Home Office makes mistakes in awarding status to applicants. Letting Agencies have previously been exposed as operating on discriminatory basis, and the new rules are a licence to increase such practice.
The rhetoric used to demonise so-called ‘illegal’ migrants will be ramped up to justify the checks, and will allay the consciences of those doing the checking.
There are a good number of organisations doing great work in opposing the hostile environment: Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants on the ‘Right to Rent’ (landlords checks), Docs not Cops and Doctors of the World on hospitals / health provision, Against Borders for Child (Schools ABC), Migrants Rights Network (raids on workplaces), Liberty (more general campaign called ‘Keep Britain Kind’) and an array of unions representing workers and others directly affected by this legislation..
We stand with them and all others opposing the hostile environment in resisting the move to create an army of immigration officers of people, and a huge network of informants.