Immigration Bill: A ‘race relations nightmare’


Despite public protests and a walk-out in Chinatown, this week saw the passing of a controversial new bill criticised as a ‘race relations nightmare’.

After a lengthy debate in the House of Commons on Tuesday October 22, the Bill aimed at eliminating illegal immigration passed its second reading with 303 votes in favour to 18 against.

The legislation, initially proposed on October 10, is criticised by many as potentially threatening to further racial discrimination. Some of the elements of the Bill include expediting deportation measures, limiting appeals on applications, restricting undocumented immigrants from a variety of services including opening a bank account, renting accommodation, obtaining a driver’s license, and accessing the NHS without paying for it.

The Bill enlists landlords, doctors, and bankers as policy enforcers required to check the legal status of every migrant they serve. Retribution for failing to do so could range from a £20,000 fine for employers to a £3,000 fine for landlords.

Home Secretary Theresa May claimed the bill would hinder the estimated 618,000 undocumented residents and temporary visitors in the UK from using the country’s services without contributing to them.

"Those who play by the rules and work hard do not want to see businesses gaining an unfair advantage through the exploitation of illegal labour, or to see our valuable public services, paid for by the taxpayer, used and abused by illegal migrants," May said.

Criticised as a “race relations nightmare” by Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty, the Bill’s proposal provoked protest from opposition parties, non-profit organisations and Chinatown residents. On October 21, restaurant owners and workers in Chinatown took to the streets in protest against the legislation and UK Border Agency raids, which numbered 13 in recent months.

Guy Taylor, Communications Manager of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), said he sees no benefit to the Bill. Taylor and Chakrabarti both voiced the fear that added checks to ensure a migrant’s legal status would increase racial profiling.

Taylor suspected that landlords in particular would avoid renting to anyone of colour for fear of legal complications and fining.

"Landlords will find it easier to just take British people, which will lead to widespread discrimination against migrants and make it harder for minorities," he said.

In addition, the Bill aims to crack down on alleged “health tourism”. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has claimed that temporary migrants are costing the NHS up to £2bn a year.

However, these figures are disputed by many. Contrary to the scare stories, the actual cost of "health tourism" is estimated at between £12m-£70m, less than 0.1% of the NHS's annual budget and moreover, it is widely believed that the administrative costs will outweigh any benefit.

Dr Clare Gerada, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, dismissed Hunt's initiative, saying GPs "must not be the Border Agency".

"You are more likely to be cared for by an immigrant than encounter a health tourist in the queue," Gerada said.

Other critics denounce not what the Bill includes, but what it leaves out. The legislation fails to address what some call the “shambolic state of border controls”, ignoring the cause of the immigrant influx and instead just focusing on its effects.

This legislation arrives at an ironic time: in the shadow of the recent Lampedusa tragedies that exposed the perils of illegal migration. In cracking down on immigration, will this Bill stop such tragedies by deterring people from trying to come, or will it make it even more dangerous by driving it further underground?

Critics like Taylor claim the Bill, by trying to eliminate problems arising from immigration, will actually increase racial discrimination against minorities.

“It will divide neighbour from neighbour. If you demonise undocumented immigrants, you sow seeds of mistrust,” he said.

Mallory Moench