We are living in times of hostility towards immigrants – or anyone who looks like they might be one. A few weeks ago, Theresa May, the Home Secretary proposed a refundable £3,000 bond for visa applicants from India, Ghana, Nigeria, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, countries from which nationals are seen as ‘high risk’ of overstaying visas. This got strong reactions from the countries concerned, particularly from India and Nigeria, and has been seen by many to be racist and discriminatory.
Last week, the Home Office ended a pilot scheme that ran for one week only of having a van drive around with the message ‘In the UK illegally? GO HOME OR FACE ARREST.’ The United Kingdom Borders Agency has also been accused of racial profiling people at underground stations, stopping only (politically) black people and asking them to prove residency status. This has been going on for a while but seems to have been only recently picked up by the media.
UKBA advice itself provides that, if stopped and questioned about immigration status on the street, a person does not need to talk to officials. Needless to say, most people do not know this and the automatic reaction when stopped by a person in an official looking uniform is to answer their questions or try to leave.
I grew up with ‘Paki go home’ signs everywhere in Oldham . I know the impact that anti-immigrant rhetoric has on perceptions and treatment of immigrants and on your sense of belonging to the country. I wrote about this back in February 2011. Furthermore, it is creates a climate of fear for anyone who is black.
Immigration law and policy is at the forefront of black communities experiences of state racism. It is by definition racist and classist. Although it is said to affect all equally, its full weight felt by certain types of foreigners (i.e. those from black majority countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America) and its aim is to prevent the ‘wrong type’ of people (i.e. those seen as having ‘little value’ to the British economy) from entering.
That white people in the UK are seldom seen as immigrants, even if they arrived just weeks ago, is an obvious point. I was at Occupy in November 2011 with the women of Southall Black Sisters and an Australian friend. We were accosted by a group of white men. They told us to ‘go home’ and that ‘a dog born in a stable is still a dog.’ My friend made the point that, of all of us present she was the one who had been in the UK the shortest amount of time yet was the only one that the men did not address when they spoke.
How soon we have forgotten the multicultural Team GB of this time last year, where a third of medals won were by those with an immigrant background. There was hope that, after Mo Farrah, Jessica Ennis, Laura Robson, Christine Ohoruogu, Anthony Ogogo, Laura Bechtolsheimer and others had won at least 11 gold medals, 3 silver and 10 bronze medals, the narrative around immigration would change.
I am encourage however by the strength and purpose of mobilising against anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies. Ian Dunt has written a useful guide to what to do if you see UKBA officials stopping people to ask for proof of right to reside. The Anti-Raids Network is mobilising to distribute guidance in different language as to what people’s rights are when stopped. It recommends that you take the following steps if you see someone stopped by UKBA or police officers on immigration grounds and your status does not put you at risk:
– Immediately make the person aware that they do not have to answer questions & that they can leave
– Remind the officers of the law
– Film the incident, where possible asking the person stopped if that’s ok, or just filming the officers involved. This may be useful in making a claim in the event of an unlawful stop or arrest.
– Record the lapel numbers of the officers involved
– Make other members of the public aware of what’s happening
– Get witnesses’ contact details if the stop leads to an arrest or the person wants to pursue it afterwards
– Attempt to pass on a phone number to the individual if you think the stop will lead to arrest
– Try not to get aggressive or physically obstruct officers if you want to avoid being arrested for obstruction.
If you want to be more prepared in advance for such a scenario, have a camera ready in your bag and your number already written on a card to give to the person.
Then there is the wonderful Southall Black Sisters.* SBS women, hearing that the UKBA enforcement team was active on the streets of Southall, a predominantly South Asian and Somali area, left their offices yesterday to protest in a spur of the moment action. Watch this small group of women gather crowds and force officials to leave.
‘We don’t want your reasons, we don’t want your lies!’
See here for my analysis of migration, race, class, gender and the State from 2011.
The image used is from the Anti Raids Network.
*Disclosure: I am on the SBS management committee. I thought they were wonderful long before I met any of them though.