Guest blog by Ed Lewis Global Justice Now’s Groups Officer
Last Saturday we witnessed a chilling upsurge of the far right on our streets as 15,000 people marched in support of the jailed Islamophobe Tommy Robinson. Demonstrators clashed with police and made Nazi salutes while prominent racists such as Dutch MP Geert Wilders addressed the crowds.
This is the latest expression of a tide of hatred towards migrants, Muslims and people of colour that has gained ground in recent years. But it’s not just far-right agitators who are fanning the flames of hatred and fear in our society. Government policy directly encourages the demonisation of migrants – and now we know that MPs are personally complicit in attacks on migrant rights as well.
Questions in parliament have revealed that every year MPs are turning over hundreds of their own constituents to immigration officials, potentially leading to them being detained or deported. In a democratic society, this is an unacceptable practice – everyone should have the right to safely meet with their member of parliament and expect representation without fear of reprisal.
That’s why, with Migrants Organise, we’ve launching our new campaign, MPs Not Border Guards. We’re demanding that MPs publicly pledge not to report their constituents to the Home Office for immigration enforcement, and to make sure their surgeries are safe spaces – not arms of the border regime.
When MPs become immigration enforcers
Since 2012, the government has been promoting a ‘hostile environment’ towards immigrants, pioneered by Theresa May in her time as home secretary. This cruel approach has meant that border enforcement has spread from the official immigration system throughout society. Landlords, doctors, teachers and bank clerks have been required to act as border agents, reporting people to a Home Office whose cruelty and incompetence has been revealed so vividly by the recent Windrush scandal. It’s a system which has sought to create an underclass within society by denying thousands of people the essential services needed to survive.
But it gets worse. Some MPs are now acting as personal agents of the hostile environment, voluntarily turning over their own constituents to immigration officials. An exposé in an article in politics.co.uk last year revealed that several hundred people had been reported to the Home Office by MPs for immigration enforcement between 2014-2016. And last month, a parliamentary question from David Lammy MP revealed that this practice is ongoing, with numerous people already being reported by MPs this year.
This is provoking fear among people who may need to seek advice from their MP because of problems relating to their immigration status. Our partners at Migrants Organise have uncovered cases of people too scared to approach their MP – a deeply concerning development given the crucial support they can provide in helping people navigate the immigration system.
Why this is an issue of global justice
Global Justice Now has a proud tradition of standing in solidarity with communities overseas facing the injustices and inequality of our global system. But global injustice isn’t just an issue that affects people ‘over there’ any longer, if it ever was. Migrants to the UK, especially from the global south, are often forced to live as a kind of underclass, doing the lowest paid jobs, all too often in the shadow economy. The hostile environment reinforces these exploitative arrangements, keeping people afraid to stop them fighting for increased rights and freedoms.
If we believe in global justice, fighting for the rights of migrants in the UK is an urgent part of the struggle. Making sure MPs don’t contribute to the hostile environment is one way we can do that together.
Join the fight back
Our campaign comes at a time when the hostile environment agenda is on the back foot. Recent announcements that schools and hospitals will no longer be required to share sensitive personal data with the Home Office, and that bank checks on customers have been suspended, are very welcome developments. They’ve come about through a mixture of public outrage and dedicated campaigning by a vibrant movement.
Getting MPs to pledge that they won’t act as border guards will further weaken the hostile environment.
Three actions you can take
- Write to your MP, asking them to take our pledge, and share it with others
- Ask for a meeting with your MP to get them to promote the campaign and ensure their constituents know they aren’t acting as border guards
- Spread awareness with the wider community. Invite a speaker from Global Justice Now or Migrants Organise to talk at a public meeting or organise a street stall
Finally, if you’re in or near London on 28 June, join our event Beyond Windrush: Building the movement for migrants’ rights. With activists, migrant campaigners and grassroots groups this is a great way to learn more about the hostile environment and how to take practical action against it – including a workshop on the MPs Not Border Guards campaign.