Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 46 Number 14, May 28, 2016 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

The 2016 Immigration Act and the
Criminalisation of Migrants and Asylum Seekers

Urgent Need to Organise against the Racism and Chauvinism of the Ruling Elite and Defend the Rights of All as Human Beings

A new Immigration Act became law on May 12, 2016, when the Immigration Bill received the Royal Assent. The Act increases the government's already considerable powers to restrict immigration into Britain provided by the Immigration Act of 2014, which was deigned to create a "hostile environment", as well as by previous immigration legislation.

According to the government the new law was enacted in order to "tackle the exploitation of low-skill workers". Immigration minister James Brokenshire asserted: "Exploiting or coercing people into work is not acceptable. It is not right that unscrupulous employers can force people to work or live in very poor conditions, withhold wages or mislead them into coming to the UK for work. Some employers seem to think that by employing workers who are less likely to complain, including vulnerable migrants, they can undercut the local labour market and mistreat them with impunity. The unscrupulous need to know that breaking the law is a high-risk activity and the full force of the state will be applied to them."

However, the government has no such concern for low paid workers in general and prevents no measures to end their exploitation, neither is it concerned about the rights of exploited workers, whether they are migrants or not. What was also clear throughout the entire passage of the Bill was that it was opposed both within parliament and outside by those concerned for the rights of migrants and refugees. The Act will provide the police and other enforcement agencies with greater powers to harass working people and further criminalise migrants and asylum seekers. Indeed, one of the main features of the Act is that it seeks to establish in law that migrants can be considered and treated as criminals and imprisoned simply for being migrants.

The new Act will amongst other things:

May 7 demonstration at St Pancras Station, part of the international day of action against detention

This latest Immigration Act not only gives the government and other state officials greater powers. It also places the onus on citizens to police immigration with the threat of criminal conviction if they fail to do so. It appears designed to create mistrust and to create the conditions where whole communities can be targeted and discriminated against. The Prime Minister and his government have already been criticised for previous comments about the value given to the English language above all other languages, and the contention that an inability to speak English leads to the "isolation" of some communities and even the potential for "radicalisation". Such measures as the "Prevent" strategy for educational institutions target this so-called "radicalisation", and further facilitate the criminalisation of the right to conscience. In terms of the flourishing of languages, the government has reinforced the conception of a "host", or official, language. Now it has gone one step further since workers will be required by law to demonstrate proficiency in the English language. The fact that the Immigration Minister has stated that this legal requirement is to "promote integration and British values" confirms that the government has not deviated from its essentially racist course.

The British state and successive British governments have created all the conditions both for large-scale immigration from impoverished countries in Europe and globally, as well as the instability that necessitates many to seek asylum. What has been demonstrated in the new Immigration Act is that the government refuses to accept that migrants and asylum seekers are human, treat them as human beings and guarantee their rights. Rather it continues along the racist course of its predecessors, intent on criminalising not just migrants but entire communities and whipping up the most reactionary chauvinism.

This is an issue which must be widely discussed so that the ruling elite's racism and chauvinism do not prevail. The issue has been reaching a fever pitch with the hysteria created by both "official" sides in the EU Referendum campaign. The conclusion is that the democratic stand, independent of the racism and chauvinism of the ruling circles, of defending the rights of all as human beings must be upheld and fought for.


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