Speaking for Ourselves

Stop turning citizens into immigration officers

Stop turning citizens into immigration officers

Mira Farhat

 Migrant Voice -
 Migrant Voice - Stop turning citizens into immigration officers

The 2016 Immigration Act aimed to create a hostile environment for undocumented migrants, but its implementation has only created discrimination, fuelled racial profiling and put all migrants lives and well-being in danger. Furthermore, by turning civilians into immigration agents it creates mistrust and hostility.

The next stage will be implemented on October 23rd 2017 when doctors and NHS staff will be forced to refuse treatments to migrants, including minors, who do not provide ID or proof of status. This comes on top of the NHS Digital agreement signed in January, which presses doctors and nurses in the NHS to give up personal details of patients that are supposedly protected under patient doctor confidentiality agreements.

The appalling direct impact of this agreement was witnessed in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower disaster, which saw many migrants scared of seeking medical treatment and living in hiding for fear of being detained or deported.

Furthermore, from January 2018, banks will be forced to check over 70 million bank accounts as part of another extension to the Immigration Act. This new requirement for banks raises many concerns given the impact of the measures already introduced.

Asylum seekers interviewed by Migrant Voice have told us how they have been unable to open bank accounts despite, having the correct ID cards and documents proving their right to remain in the UK. Our investigation found that banks did not have the full understanding of the various documentations issued by the Home Office and thus refused anyone who could not provide a British passport. The lack of a bank account meant they could not seek employment or access benefits as bank account details were required for any payment. Individuals described their experience as the most humiliating and desperate period in their lives, where they were homeless and had been forced to begged on the streets for money.

The Home Office’s ‘Right to Rent’ rules, which were rolled out in February 2016, forces landlords to carry out immigration checks on tenants before leasing their property or else face prosecution. This scheme has already resulted in a rise in homelessness amongst all migrants, and a rise in rogue landlords exploiting migrant’s immigration status either through increasing costs or physical and verbal abuse and threats.

It is clear that regulations such are these will only worsen the plight of undocumented migrants as they will be forced to go further into hiding out of fear of being deported, and forced into exploitative underground worlds, where their health and safety will be put in danger.

The statement made by a Home Office spokesperson in September that “everyone in society can play their part in tackling illegal migration,” only confirms that civilians and public-sector workers are being made to take on the roles of border enforcers, a role which they are neither equipped for in terms of legal experience or understanding of the immigration rules. Nor should it be their job to do so.

We have seen throughout history the consequences of making civilians turn on each other out of fear of prosecution and loss of livelihood.  Forcing them to become border enforcers, in the name of lowering the immigration cap is dangerous for the fabric of society. A serious revision to the Act must take place to ensure the protection of all civilians and that migrants’ lives and well-being are not put in danger simply to reduce numbers at any cost.