For twenty years UK governments have repeatedly introduced new immigration control measures, each more restrictive than the last. The Conservatives’ current hostile environment approach is just the most recent and arguably the most vicious in its impossible-to-meet requirements and culture of disbelief.
What is less well known is that none of these clampdowns actually work. Migration figures continue to rise and the ineffectiveness of government restrictions is an open secret amongst Home Office officials.
A new report by Corporate Watch Who is Immigration Policy For? reveals some key facts behind government policy:
Immigration policy isn’t really about controlling migration, “it’s about making a show of control. It is a spectacle, an emotional performance.” In practice, this means plucking the ‘low-hanging fruit’ - attacking the most vulnerable migrants such as refugees or others without the right documents.
The primary audiences for the spectacle of immigration control are a small section of the population who are deliberately targeted, primarily older white people who are key voters but who make up only around 20% of the population.
Policies are drawn up by politicians in close interaction with the media to have maximum impact on public consciousness.
The failure of immigration enforcement to dent rising numbers led directly to May’s hostile environment policy. Limiting access to employment and services was meant to act as a deterrent to migrants coming to the UK. It also moves the burden on enforcement from immigration officials onto ordinary citizens - schoolteachers, doctors, nurses, hospital receptionists, registry office staff, bank clerks, employers, landlords and letting agents.
The UK’s ultimate ‘hostile environment’ experiment is on the border in Calais,” says the report. “Here the British and French governments spend millions to make people’s lives a living hell – and still people keep arriving, their other choices being so desperate.”
In fact ,the biggest impact on immigration numbers has not been Home Office policy but the uncertainty created by Brexit. Before that the importance of the Home Office appearing to be doing something became critically important in the quest by governing parties to win back UKIP voters. This is why both Labour and Conservative governments sought to reassure certain “target publics” about the effectiveness of their very similar policies. In some cases, this led to direct collusion between government and tabloid newspapers in their anti-immigrant campaigns.
Perhaps most perniciously, government immigration policy is an example of state-orchestrated anxiety, which has spread into welfare, employment and housing law, creating a hostile environment on a whole host of new fronts.
The full report is available here https://corporatewatch.org/who-is-immigration-policy-for-full-report/