Asylum watch: Now what?

Labour says it is planning to 'simplify' immigration legislation. Frances Webber argues that its real agenda is to subvert human rights and give more power to the state

March 23, 2009
5 min read

At least two new immigration bills are proposed for the 2008-9 session of parliament. They are the citizenship, immigration and borders bill and the immigration simplification bill. Together they cover the full gamut of immigration law, replacing the ten existing pieces of primary legislation. It is nothing short of a complete rewrite of the immigration laws.

The UK Borders Agency (UKBA), established as a sinisterly-described ‘shadow agency’ of the Home Office, is to gain new customs and visa powers, protecting our borders from ‘impermissible’ substances, commodities and people. Its powers will include detention without statutory limit, including detention of children.

Detention, according to the UKBA, is increasingly important in immigration policy. The ‘detention estate’ has grown from 200 places in the mid-1990s to 2,500 places today, with plans for another 1,300 to 1,500 places in the next three years. This has attracted the attention of Europe’s human rights commissioner, who also objects to the failure to set limits on detention.

Entering the country will become harder. The ‘authority to carry’ scheme will require airlines to perform real-time immigration checks on passengers, meaning no one will legally be able to travel to the UK without prior approval. The stated aim is to stop people using fake passports and visas, but the effect will be to condemn those seeking international asylum to illegal and dangerous methods of travel.

There will also be new powers of detention and questioning away from ports. This power is already applied by officials who raid small businesses daily in search of ‘illegal’ workers (always claiming the raids are ‘intelligence-led’, pre-empting accusations of illegality). Officials sometimes carry hand-held fingerprint terminals to check whether those arrested have applied for asylum or otherwise been fingerprinted.

Such technologies are increasingly important. Biometrics are taken from all visa applicants, and by December 2007 more than a million sets of fingerprints had been taken. On 24 November 2008, the first biometric ID cards were ‘rolled out’. Eventually, everyone subject to immigration control will have to carry one, and show it to do everything from opening a bank account to receiving NHS treatment or getting married. All aspects of life will be subject to immigration status.

The integration of visa, port and internal controls, together with the enhanced powers of examination, arrest, detention and powers of data collection, consolidate UKBA’s position as a powerful, autonomous border police. But structures of accountability are absent.

Alongside enhanced powers for the enforcers, the proposals erode migrants’ rights. Under the cover of ‘simplification’, anyone who is not British or a European Economic Area (EEA) national will need ‘immigration permission’ – including Commonwealth citizens who have the right to come and live here. Other ‘simplification’ proposals could replace deportation and administrative removal processes with expulsion and a re-entry ban, applicable with the same force against students who work 22 hours per week instead of 20 hours as it is against murderers.

The much-trumpeted ‘earned citizenship’ provisions reflect the facile and condescending debate over ‘British values’. They require not only testing on language and life in the UK but also longer qualifying periods, with unpaid community work used to shorten the period. Other provisions – from the requirement of bail bonds to powers to charge above the administrative cost for processing applications and to require deportees to pay the costs of their own removal – show that migrants are seen as at best a source of income.

With this inhuman and instrumental approach to migration in the ascendant, human rights and asylum (already dirty words in some quarters) look set to continue their long downward slide.

New immigration minister Phil Woolas sees his task not as educating the country in the social, political and economic benefits of an internationalist outlook, but as showing the right-wing press how tough he is on immigration. ‘It’s been too easy to get into this country in the past and it’s going to get harder,’ he tells the Times. He says employers shouldn’t employ immigrants (‘you should … attempt to fill skills shortages with your indigenous population’) and the NHS shouldn’t treat them (‘it’s not an international health service’). He adds that he has to be tough to pre-empt BNP support: ‘We’ve never had a BNP councillor [in his Oldham constituency] – I hope I’ve had something to do with that.’

But with Labour policies like this, what’s the difference? Opposition to such cynical ministerial soundbites and government policies needs to be loud, determined and principled if universal human rights are not to be undermined by little Englandism.

To view the government’s proposals visit:

http://www.official-documents.gov.uk/document/cm73/7373/7373.pdf

The Citizenship, Immigration and Borders Bill

Immigration Simplification Bill http://www.commonsleader.gov.uk/output/page2668.asp


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen

Short story: Syrenka
A short story by Kirsten Irving

Utopia: Industrial Workers Taking the Wheel
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry – and its lessons for today

Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant

Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’

Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue

Utopia: Room for all
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK

A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank

News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions

Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release

Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts

‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette

The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.

How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op

Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU

Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity

Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson

Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release

University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.

Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.

Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History

Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.

A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas

Book Review: Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics
'In spite of the odds Corbyn is still standing' - Alex Doherty reviews Seymour's analysis of the rise of Corbyn

From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
'A small manifesto for black liberation through socialist revolution' - Graham Campbell reviews Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's 'From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation'

The Fashion Revolution: Turn to the left
Bryony Moore profiles Stitched Up, a non-profit group reimagining the future of fashion

The abolition of Art History A-Level will exacerbate social inequality
This is a massive blow to the rights of ordinary kids to have the same opportunities as their more privileged peers. Danielle Child reports.

Mass civil disobedience in Sudan
A three-day general strike has brought Sudan to a stand still as people mobilise against the government and inequality. Jenny Nelson writes.

Mustang film review: Three fingers to Erdogan
Laura Nicholson reviews Mustang, Deniz Gamze Erguven’s unashamedly feminist film critique of Turkey’s creeping conservatism

What if the workers were in control?
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry