From ID cards to echoing the BNP – seven ways to make migrants feel unwelcome


31 July 2018

The Border Audit, a new report from the centre-right thinktank Policy Exchange was released on Monday. The authors essentially argue that the problem with the hostile environment for migrants is not that it is too tough but that it hasn’t gone far enough. They argue that if only we had ID cards and a national database of everyone who has ever set foot in Britain, then the Windrush scandal would never have happened. Apparently this would “reassure people…that we know who is in the country, for how long, and what their entitlements are”.

Well it certainly won’t reassure migrants, whether they are currently lucky enough as categorised as ‘legal’ by the Home Office or not. But Policy Exchange are not the only people pretending to reassure migrants while seeking to make matters worse. Here is a list of seven ‘mistakes’ that the government and their policy community allies have made lately that will intensify the insecurity that migrants feel in Brexit Britain:

1. Advocate for ID cards and a Big Brother surveillance state

Let’s start with the main recommendation set out in The Border Audit report: ID cards. Remember them? The Blair government spent about £5.4 billion on the idea including a database of everyone’s personal details. It fell through because of civil liberties concerns. Now Policy Exchange are trying to reintroduce the idea as a way to ‘help’ migrants prove they’re allowed to be here. They claim the Windrush scandal would never have happened if we’d had this ID card scheme. This might be true if we could recruit Dr Who to travel back in time and issue them to people arriving in the 1960s. As it is though, ID cards (or more to the point the big database that would come with them) would just have further normalised the surveillance society and further exacerbated the hostile environment. After all, many immigrants already have ID cards. Making them the norm for everyone (especially if we force people to carry them all the time like in some other countries) could just encourage the targeting of people who ‘look’ like they might not have one. And the point about the Windrush scandal was that these people did not have the documents from the 1960s and 70s ‘proving’ their right to be here. Forcing them to apply for ID cards without any supporting documentation would have left them in exactly the same position.

2. Use language that makes migrants sound like cans of baked beans

Politicians often pay lip service to the ‘benefits’ of migration to avoid sounding exactly like the far-right. But they often ruin it by immediately using dehumanising language about migrants. This is also true of some people in policy circles. To use The Border Audit report as an example, there are references to the ‘stock’ of ‘illegal immigrants’. This is language people use to talk about items in an Argos catalogue not people. Also calling for more ‘decisive removals’ of ‘illegals’ makes it sound like you’re discussing the disposal of boxes of pirate DVDs from an attic, not the lives of tens of thousands of people. Also, can we please stop using terms like ‘failed asylum seekers’ which makes it sound like they were auditioning for The Apprentice not fleeing persecution?

3. Talk about ‘investing’ in border infrastructure and immigration detention

More bad language points to the Border Audit report authors here. While they use negative language like ‘immigration offenders’ to talk about undocumented migrants and blame ‘human rights’ for not being able to deport many more people, they talk about ‘investing’ in immigration detention centres. Unfortunately, the only people who profit from immigration detention are the private companies that run them.

4. Rebrand a horrible policy and hardly changing it at all

 After the Windrush scandal, even the government realised that its hostile environment policy had generated some seriously bad PR. But instead of immediately rescinding the policy and embarking upon a policy of welcoming migrants instead of persecuting them, the government thought it would get away with simply rebranding it the ‘compliant environment’. Do they think we’re stupid? No migrant will be reassured unless the whole disgusting policy is cancelled. But that would not go down well with Theresa May, who was the person who introduced it as home secretary.

5. Lie to migrants that their rights are guaranteed when they aren’t

The government constantly tells the 3 million EU citizens living in the UK (and UK citizens in the EU) that their rights have been ‘sorted’ and that they can continue living life as if Brexit wasn’t happening. This is a lie. As things stand, EU citizens living here stand to be subjected to the hostile environment after Brexit and will have to ‘pay to stay’ under the government’s Settled Status scheme. And because ‘nothing is agreed until everything agreed’ even this might end up not happening and EU citizens might be stripped of many more of their rights here if there is a ‘no deal’ Brexit.

6. Split people into ‘good’ migrants and ‘bad’ migrants

The government has tried to divide and rule on migration. Whenever they are confronted by someone whose lives they’ve ruined with their hostile environment policy, they respond by claiming ‘we don’t mean you’. So after years of happily deporting people who were born here and denying basic services to people of the Windrush generation, the government fell back on trying this trick instead. Now the Windrush generation have graciously been recategorized as ‘good immigrants’ (even though many were born here and aren’t immigrants at all) while everyone else who isn’t rich or in possession of some super skill we need is a ‘bad immigrant’. People’s lives shouldn’t depend on whether the tabloid press recognises them as being ‘deserving’ enough to be allowed to stay. The system itself and the culture of disbelief within the Home Office needs to change.

7. Echo the BNP policy on voluntary repatriation

The far-right (and thankfully now moribund) BNP’s flagship policy has always been ‘voluntary repatriation’. This means paying migrants to go home. This has rightly been seen as pretty disgusting. But the authors of The Border Audit are trying to promote a similar idea – paying asylum seekers to leave with money from the aid budget. This is money meant to help poor countries not pay for our horrible immigration system. To be fair, this isn’t quite the same as the full-on racist policy argued for by the BNP (that would have included British citizens from BAME backgrounds). But it is a scary step in a direction that was until now anathema to everyone apart from actual fascists.

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