Immigration Bill divide and rule

‘My government will bring forward a bill that further reforms Britain’s immigration system. The bill will ensure that this country attracts people who will contribute and deters those who will not.’

Queen’s speech, 8 May 2013

As communists we strive to create a society which can provide for everyone according to their needs. In the current period of capitalist crisis and enforced ‘austerity’, we stand against all cuts and all attacks on the working class, and fight for proper social provision for everyone. We utterly oppose all ruling class and opportunist attempts to divide and rule us and pit one section against another. The recent Queen’s Speech and the Immigration Bill that it introduced are part of such an attempt to divide and rule by, yet again, using immigrants as scapegoats and creating a diversion from the government’s failure to provide sufficient housing for the working class, and from the massive attacks underway on the NHS, education and other social provision. Mark Moncada reports.

The proposed Immigration Bill, due to be published this autumn, will further restrict migrants’ already severely limited access to housing, benefits and the NHS, and will strengthen the state’s already draconian powers to deport foreign prisoners. This allows politicians of all the mainstream parties to repeat racist speeches and the media to reprint racist headlines, for example blaming migrants for increasing council house waiting lists when in fact fewer council homes are being built. In Newcastle, for example, there are currently 9,588 households on the council waiting list, while only 110 council houses were under construction in 2011/2012.

The proposals for the Bill refer to existing legislation about the allocation of social housing, including a local residence test and migrants having to have lived here and ‘contributed’ for two years before they qualify. 95% of migrants who have lived in Britain for less than five years are already housed in the private sector, many in poor or expensive accommodation, and local authorities already have powers to limit social housing allocation with a two to five year residence requirement; the Bill will make it statutory for all local authorities to do so.

In his speech on immigration in March, Prime Minister David Cameron stated: ‘New migrants should not expect to be given a home on arrival… what this should mean is that local people rightly get priority in the social housing system.’ In 2011 Birmingham council, the biggest council in the country, along with others, announced that they would no longer house asylum seekers. At the time Birmingham provided 190 homes to asylum seekers, had 30,000 people on the waiting list and had finished building four new council homes – the first in three decades.

The Bill will include a new requirement for private landlords to check the immigration status of tenants to prevent ‘illegal’ immigrants from being housed at all. This is likely to force migrants into unregulated substandard housing or homelessness and destitution.

Cameron also wants the maximum fine for employers who use undocumented migrant workers doubled to £20,000. This follows a series of recent raids on businesses by the UK Border Agency in Newcastle in February with local press encouraging readers to report suspected ‘illegal’ immigrants to Crimestoppers. This kind of scaremongering – just like the calls for ‘strivers’ to grass up ‘benefit cheating skivers’ – is designed to deflect anger from the real cheats like rich bankers and corporations who avoid tax and act completely outside the law. We can expect such scaremongering to increase to frantic levels at the end of 2013 when labour restrictions on Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants are lifted.

Anti-migrant hatred is also continuously being whipped up by Home Secretary Theresa May, who states: ‘We want to make it easier and quicker to deport people from this country so they can’t just stay around through a series of spurious appeals and we also want to deal with what’s called the Article 8 issue and make it absolutely clear that foreign national offenders with serious crimes should, except in very exceptional circumstances, be deported from the country.’ At present, out of 5,000 foreign prisoners who are targeted for deportation each year there are only 180 successful appeals using Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the right to family life), while many families continue to be torn apart by Britain’s already harsh, racist immigration laws. The endless talk of ‘foreign criminals’ is just another smokescreen and in reality the government has no qualms about deporting people whether they have been accused of committing a crime or not.

Other planned measures include:

• ‘Regulation’ of migrants’ access to the NHS, ensuring that temporary migrants make a contribution to the costs of their health care.

• Non-EU nationals to be compelled to prove they hold health insurance before they receive care.

• New responsibilities to be placed on EU member states to pay if their citizens use the NHS.

• A new residence test requiring most migrants to have lived in Britain for at least 12 months before they gain access to civil legal aid. (Relatives of Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes, shot dead by the Metropolitan Police in 2005) told a 22 May demonstration against legal aid cuts that had this change been in force at the time of the inquest into his death, they would have been ineligible for legal aid for his inquest.)

Migrant workers in Britain are a super-exploited section of the working class; they are encouraged in and used as a cheap source of labour in times of capitalist boom, and vilified and expelled when no longer needed. We stand against all attempts to attack or criminalise migrant workers and for the unity of the working class. Together we are stronger. Together we can fight for decent public services for all. Together we can stand against the onslaught on our living standards and the attacks on hard-won social provision.

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 233 June/July 2013

 

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