Tuesday, 27 May 2014

The UK Immigration Act 2014 - Legislating for a loss of dignity

A couple of weeks ago (May 14thm to be precise) the new UK Immigration Bill passed into law. The Immigration Act 2014 brings in an array of new measures that, in the words of Theresa May, focus on 'making it harder for people who are here illegally to stay here". The act – along with this statement - could have come straight out of a UKIP election manifesto (if they had one).

The range of measures is vast and comprehensive. They include extensions in the use of force in immigration matters (including deportation), new healthcare charges for people without permanent residency, and greater restrictions on bail for those in immigration detention. They extend powers to enter and search homes and workplaces, and add new powers to search people. This means that in a range of ordinary and every day encounters, from renting a property to opening a bank account or attending a place of learning or worship, people will be required to identify and account for themselves. Opportunities to appeal immigration decisions that label people as illegal in the first place have been further limited through cutbacks in legal aid. Presumably this measure has been taken instead of moves at improving immigration decisions (and it is worth mentioning that last year 32% of deportation decisions and 49% of entry clearance applications were successfully appealed)?

The trend of British Governments' demonising immigrants and using this image as justification to further marginalise, oppress and criminalise them is sadly nothing new, but this act sets a new watermark. In removing access to fundamental public services, the effects are likely to include poorer health, more homelessness, more destitution, and more occurrences of mental illness for the people these measures are aimed at. Removing access to healthcare does not remove people's need for healthcare or remove those people who need it. Making it illegal to rent out homes does not remove peoples' need for housing or remove those who need to be housed. Denying access to places of learning or worship does not remove those people who need to learn or pray. It just marginalises, demoralises and scares people. It weakens their support networks and makes them more vulnerable. They will create greater insecurity, isolation and social exclusion. But that's the point. 'Punish them them till they leave' is the subtext. These measures effectively legislate for a loss of dignity.

The issue as to why we allow for people to be treated like this is justified on the grounds that they are here illegally. Yet why is it that certain people are labelled as illegal in the first place? Illegality doesn't convey some kind of passive 'state of nature' but is a label created by the state. And when Theresa May talks about "making it harder for people who are here illegally to stay here" she brushes over a fundamental flaw in the logic of the state's approach to immigration.

In recent years the grounds on which a person from outside the EEA can qualify to live in the UK have shrunk. At the same time the powers to enforce the exclusion and criminalisation of anyone classified as 'illegal' have grown. The need to 'get tougher' becomes self-fulfilling: we need more measures to catch 'illegal people', because the nets of who it is we define as illegal are being cast wider and wider. This backward logic effectively leads to the continuous expansion of who it is that can be considered illegal and hence legitimately excluded. And this logic of exclusion does not only apply to immigrants. From the stripping back of the NHS that excludes people from accessing healthcare to cuts in welfare that excludes people from social security, we see this trend in other areas of all our lives. I don't want to live in a country where people are denied the right to live in dignity.

When this attack has presented itself in the past, people have resisted. Some of the most inspiring forms of resistance have been those where people have supported those under attack in their efforts to continue to carry out everyday normal activities. For example, since the mid 2000's groups have formed to resist the dawn raids carried out by the (then) UK Border Agency by being present with potential deportees when such raids have taken place. Around the same time, when the government started issuing vouchers rather than cash to asylum seekers (that could only be used in certain shops), some people started schemes whereby people could exchange their vouchers for cash. In response to this new act, we also need to start thinking about Like these acts of solidarity, we need to start showing our resistance to this new act, and to the tide of hatred that it represents.