Let's not start at the beginning. Let's put aside the valid and thorny debate over whether it is necessary to have immigration controls. Let's not step into a historical discussion over the preconditions of migration, the circulation of wealth, or the history of colonialism. Let's accept, as a truism, that immigration needs to be controlled, that borders need to function as valves that let in certain type of migrant while letting other types out. Let's agree to start here. And now let's narrow down the discussion even more: let's start with immigration in the UK.
For the past few years, but arguably with more intensity than ever over the past few months, immigration – when not eclipsed by this or that royal event – has been one of the most recurrent themes both in the press and politicians' statements. Many seem to be under the assumption that "they" (whoever they may be) are flocking to "our" (whoever we are) "gates" (whatever that means). They are flooding in in too large a number and they are a problem. They will scrounge, steal, eradicate whatever is left of Britain's identity (curry already being the national dish). There is the impression that there is a problem and both the right-wing press and parties on the right have made an incredible electoral opportunity out of this impression. First UKIP's successes; and now the Tory government's attempts at regaining "immigration concerned" voters. First with a ridiculous wheeled publicity stunt, and now with an operation that sees the UKBA’s agents running potentially unlawful street checks in many of London’s tube and train stations.
The primary problem with this is that there are no statistics or any serious studies that back up this "impression" that immigration is a problem, let alone that "illegal" immigration is a problem. The government – are using this impression, a sensation, solely for electioneering purposes. And as we have witnessed innumerable times before, such scapegoating is incredibly detrimental to the equilibrium of our already out-of-balance communities. In this case, the way it is being carried out is cause for even greater concern. Scapegoating, more explicitly the demonisation of immigrants, has by a twisted fabulatory process turned from sheer speculation to a matter of visibility, with the single underlying intent of electioneering. Yes, it is all a matter of visibility; in more ways than one.
On the one hand we have the visibility of the popularly-named ‘Racist van’: "go home" or face arrest; and if this message is not clear enough, look at this beautiful pair of handcuffs. As somebody has already pointed out somewhere in the Twittersphere, not only is this stunt problematic in its rehashing of the "go home" utterance (which many of us non-Brits or adopted Brits have heard as xenophobic insult at some point of our lives) but it is deeply optimistic. It takes for granted, that 1) the targeted criminal will see the van, and 2) will heed the command. More to the point: why is the message written only in English? If it is directed at "illegal" immigration, regularly portrayed in the press as half-literate brutes unable to read, write or speak the vernacular, why then is the message not delivered in as many languages as possible (as in many of the immigration documents produced by the Home Office, for example)? Why? Simply because the van is not directed at "illegal" immigrants: it is directed at British voters - those lost to UKIP - as some other Twitter users have pointed out before me.
Then we have the visibility of the street checks. These borderline legal checks, making use of a murky legal black spot that could easily be challenged (and it has, here), have no other purpose to show that "they" are doing something to stop "them" from being here "illegally", because we have the impression that "illegal" immigrants a problem. The incredibly problematic aspect of these street checks is that they have been carried out in debatable ways, in the middle of London rush hour, going against the letter of the law of the UKBA’s "Enforcement Instructions Guidance" for such proceedings, which among other things states that "Before seeking to question someone, an IO [intelligence officer] will need to have information in his possession which suggests that the person may be of immigration interest" and that "Under the Equality Act 2010 it is unlawful for IOs carrying out their duties to do any act which constitutes race discrimination.” ‘Discrimination’ includes treating some people less favourably than others on the basis of race (which includes colour, nationality, ethnic or national origins) (item 31.19.3).
To put it simply: according to this document, the UKBA can only stop a person if they have a well-founded reason to believe the person is here illegally. They cannot go "fishing" for "illegal" immigrants, disturbing and setting out of balance communities in the process. The way this fishing is generally carried out, as everyone can guess, is by picking out people that look as if they could be here illegally, in other words by means of visibility; by picking what sets this person apart from the rest. You make up your mind what that means, but if you have time, check out the guidelines with which UKBA's agents are provided with, and see point 31.19.5 of their instructions.
Let’s bring it back to the point that these new measures are not sustained by intelligence, stats, or any studies that would suggest the UK is really under strain because of "illegal" immigration. It is good to be reminded of that again. And again. They are just a cynical attempt at electioneering – among others - by the Conservative Party, piggybacking on the ill-informed opinions of the right-wing press. They, the Tories, need to be seen to be doing something and immigration is just too vague and blurry a topic: it is the perfect electioneering pawn. No proof needs to be given. It is just a matter of visibility.
Let me finish this diatribe with the following. Just now, somebody, a chap, replied to a tweet in which I enumerated the rights you have in case you are stopped. The tweet has gone a bit viral by now, bringing a lot of not necessarily wanted attention my way. This chap said "If you are here legally you have nothing to worry about". I don't need to check this person's Twitter picture to know he is not the kind of person who will be stopped by these immigration checks. He probably doesn't look like an illegal alien. He is probably invisible. And you make up your mind about what that might mean.
Fernando Sdrigotti is a writer, photographer and film researcher. .
He lives and works in London. www.fernandosdrigotti.com
Expressions and information published in this and other blogs are solely the responsibility of the author(s) and/or solely his or her expressions.