Speaking for Ourselves

Editorial: A watershed bill

Editorial: A watershed bill


 Migrant Voice - Editorial: A watershed bill

Not all Immigration Acts go down in history. Most are forgotten almost as quickly as they are superceded. But the Immigration Act 2020 is different – and in our view, its passing should go down in history as a dark moment in the story of Britain and migration.

By ending free movement, failing to introduce promised reform, and granting extraordinary and excessive powers to the Home Secretary to create immigration policy, the Act lands a triple blow to any remaining hopes of a fair, humane and welcoming post-Brexit immigration system.

We are calling on policymakers across the spectrum and migrant communities and organisations across the country to step up their efforts to hold this Government to account on their pledges of immigration reform and to vigorously scrutinise all proposals and policies put forward by the Home Office. 

There is little that can be done regarding the end of free movement, which was presaged nearly four and a half years ago and has long seemed inevitable. For those of us who believe freedom is a good thing and movement a natural part of human life; those of us who have moved from one country to another, for work, love or just new opportunities; those of us whose lives have been positively affected by migration – for us, 1 January 2021 will be a day of quiet reflection.

What is more urgent now is the need to hold the Government to account on their promises to ensure that human rights and equality are at the heart of the work of the Home Office. This Immigration Act, which simply extends all existing immigration policies, punishments and deterrents currently applicable to non-EU citizens to 445 million EU citizens, takes us in the opposite direction. It contains nothing that will make immigration decisions quicker or more reliable, nothing to reduce extortionate visa fees, nothing that signals an end to the attitude of indifference, or even hostility, that many migrants face when interacting with the Home Office. 

The Home Office must not be allowed to pretend that producing a Comprehensive Improvement Plan is the same as producing comprehensive improvement – reform must be deep-seated, widespread and enshrined in legislation.

Equally urgent is the need to scrutinise any planned changes to immigration law, since the new Immigration Act allows the Home Secretary to make such changes without proper Parliamentary process and scrutiny. It is staggering that any one individual can be granted such power over the lives and futures of untold numbers of people, especially, as we noted in a joint briefing on this subject with Amnesty International UK, when so many of those people have no right to vote in the UK. This fact ought to emphasise, not reduce, the importance of proper process and scrutiny in the making of the laws affecting them. 

While of course the current or any future Home Secretary could choose to create policies using these powers that we and migrant communities would welcome with open arms, the indications are that this is currently unlikely in a Home Office that is allowing asylum seekers to be moved between detention centres with untreated broken bones and burns’ that is detaining them in military barracks and is considering using offshore ferries for the same purpose; that has until now compensated just 196 people whose lives were impacted – often devastated – by the Windrush scandal; and that has just increased the already extortionate, unfair NHS surcharge to a crippling £624 per year.

The passing of the Immigration Act 2020 is a watershed moment. From now on, we must all be even more vigilant, even more vocal. We urge all who care about the rights of those who choose – or are forced to – cross borders, to stand with us in the fight for an immigration system in the UK that is fair, humane, and grounded in decency. 


TOP IMAGE: Westminster, Chris Bird, Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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