Playing the immigration 'wild card'

By Kunle Olulode, chief executive of Voice4Change England (V4CE)

The mobile poster van says; In the UK illegally? Go home or face arrest.’ The words are set over the anonymous image of a Home Office Enforcement Officer dangling handcuffs. The term ‘White Van Man’ may never be seen in the same way again!
 
A few days later over in the predominantly Asian enclave of Southall, Southall Black Sisters lead a boisterous and noisy demonstration in the face of bemused and sheepish looking UK Borders Agency Officers. The scene is relayed over and over again on You Tube for the whole world to view. This is Britain summer 2013. A year ago we were being dazzled by the spectacle of the Olympic Games in all its multi-cultural splendour. The unbridled collective of international joy of those games seems a long, long way from the negative scenes and images now being conveyed of foreign workers and illegal immigrants.
 
Last week’s launch of the Home Office’s pilot scheme to get undocumented workers more commonly referred to as ‘illegal immigrants’ to turn themselves in for deportation or face jail, has quite rightly been roundly condemned as an opportunist stunt.  
 
Telling illegal immigrants in no uncertain terms to….. "Bugger off home" as one blogger put it, has provoked a sizable backlash in the national media and caused public tension with the Tory – Lib-dem coalition government with Vince Cable declaring it ‘stupid’ and ‘offensive’. Meanwhile the Advertising Standards Authority has received so many complaints regarding the billboards it is considering launching an investigation. The initiative coupled with the sinister appearance of Border Control officials popping up at local London tube stations (Kensal Green, Walthamstow, Brent) in areas of high visible ethnic populations, left many commentators stunned at its crudity and open encouragement of hostility to immigrants. 
 
For what purpose has this campaign been launched and why now we may ask? 
 
Well you don’t have to dig too deep for answers. In the Queens Speech in April 2013, measures were outlined that would effectively create a new body of institutions involved in policing immigration. 
 
Also in July of this year Sarah Teather MP in a Guardian newspaper interview let slip information on the formation of a new government group set up for the purpose of requiring ministers to come up with new ways to make immigrants’ lives more difficult, allegedly titled The hostile environment working group – The job of this group being to make Britain a hostile environment to unwanted immigrants.” It would do this by drawing in new layers of professionals acting as unpaid immigration officers tooled up to scrutinise the immigration status of people they come across in the course of their everyday activities. For example, landlords will be responsible for checking the immigration status of their tenants, and be fined if they let to illegal migrants. The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency will have to guarantee that only legitimate immigrants get driving licences. Who is to say that the unexpected spot checks and questioning of people at tube train stations might become a matter of routine!
 
The problem with this is of course the difficulty in distinguishing between someone who is an undocumented individual, someone who is a legal immigrant, and someone who is well… simply British. Isn’t that simple. 
 
Mark Harper, the immigration minister, defended the action of the vans in the national press, stating that there is no racist message or intent. The purpose of the policy is to spread the word to illegal migrants that help is at hand if they want to go “home”. 
 
Harper presents a vision of a non – racist immigration policy.  A situation that has never existed since the first model immigration act the 1905 Aliens who passage was aimed at keeping Jews out of the factories of the East End of London, Continued with the 1968 Kenyan Asian Act (still a record for the passage of any legislation 48hrs!) , the visa restrictions brought in the 80s and 90s and so on. Do we live in more enlighten times? The vans say not! 
 
These actions clearly are being initiated in the middle of a very successful UKiP electoral swing. Where UKiP have managed temporally to take votes off their right-wing rivals and peg them back in the polls.  The race for the 2015 has begun and immigration once again looks to be one of the major issues on which it will be fought. The tory parties main advisers has said that the Home Office’s scheme for “go home” vans targeting illegal immigrants is flawed and has backfired in favour of UKiP. The government’s actions are beginning to look uncoordinated and in coherent, especially when it’s so obvious that racial profiling is at the root of the campaign. The danger and contradiction at the heart of the project is that the very thing you have striven to prove; that your strategy to deal with immigration is in no way connected with race, blow ups in your face, as settled non – immigrant communities which are British, and newly arrived legal immigrants, find themselves, being treated in exactly the same way as illegals and once again inadvertently, race once becomes the issue.
 
As Sarah Teather ….said in a recent live address on immigration
 
"…. we detain and disperse them, berate and disbelieve them. We render them destitute, and we prevent them from working. We dehumanise. We disrespect.  We disable. The way we treat people who seek our protection is nothing short of a national disgrace." I couldn’t have put it better myself.
 
What we really need is a positive political vision of immigration, without apology and to demand clear pathways for those who want to work, to become fully documented.