Everything about the way the government, the media and as a result the general public deal with immigration seems wrong to me. Given this the Home Office’s recent campaign of driving around vans displaying the slogan “Go Home” through diverse neighbourhoods is despicable, yet exactly what’s to be expected.
The “Go Home” scandal wasn’t the only distasteful action the department has undertaken in recent times. Their plethora of blunders range from standing outside of tube stations and asking people if they were illegal immigrants (I’m sure these people were selected at random, I doubt Home Office agents can even see colour) to texting British citizens to warn them that if they didn’t leave the country they’d face arrest (I’d imagine that’s the kind of news you’d want to break over the phone). I’ll admit that whoever has to deal with enforcing immigration laws has a difficult job; dealing with illegal immigration is incredibly tricky. On one hand you have to enforce laws, but on the other hand you have to not fall into a pit of bigoted and offensive idiocy. Sometimes they fail in this complex and delicate balancing act, it’s understandable. The point I’m making is that any public organisation has a responsibility to account for the public (the clue is in the name). I appreciate that the Home Office has a “job” to do, but that job shouldn’t come at the cost of racism, xenophobia and potentially offending thousands. Illegal immigration isn’t the be all and end all of our great nation, so why can’t the enforcers just take their foot off the pedal a little and hit a few less pedestrians? Is it institutional? Maybe the kind of people that put their all into an organisation that hunts down desperate and needy individuals and ships them off back to depravity isn’t capable of a balanced outlook. However, there is a reason why specialist immigration enforcement agencies exist, separate from the police: it’s because the issue of immigration is a sensitive one, it stands on the borderline of culture and law and should be treated with care and caution. Will someone please explain this to them?
But they can’t be blamed for all their mistakes; they are after all only the enforcers of the almighty leviathan and font of wisdom/good judgement that is Ann Widdecombe 2.0, Theresa May. I should declare my biases early on; I support freedom, human rights, equality and transparency. This sets me on a collision course with the Conservative party’s answers to a question no-one ever asked. This isn’t intended to be a character assassination (I don’t need to bother). May’s hard line on immigration shows UK political games at their worst. The carpet bombing of Britain’s ethnic communities in order to “get tough” on immigration showed how little concern some politicians have for the public (or at least parts of it). May knew a hard line on the “illegals” would be popular with her cronies and people easily led enough to swing right. Did she care about the hurt and offence “Go Home” vans would cause? Did she care about the fact that this was the same phrase shouted at immigrants by the National Front in the 70s? Her cold reaction suggests otherwise. May has recently announced that the vans won’t be rolled out across the UK, citing the fact they were “too blunt an instrument”; this came too late for those in a number of ethnically diverse London boroughs. When a policy on immigration is called “disturbing” by UKIP, doesn’t that point to their being something deeply wrong with it and possibly even with the department that thought of it?
There’s a bigger problem though. Our whole attitude to immigration is completely skewed. We’re fed hideous lies by people who try to turn our anger at the system into anger at an invisible enemy. We keep being told about how immigrants leech off our taxes and public services, but we’re not told about the struggles of being an immigrant. It’s not a bed of roses; it’s hard, painful and for a lot of immigrants it takes everything they have. But these facts are swept under the carpet; instead we’re fed the image of crime and cost being the only consequences of immigration. The perception of immigrants has become so detached from reality that an ethical position on the matter won’t even make it into the debate. Immigration is weighed up on a scale of economic benefits and losses, humans reduced to figures and statistics. This dehumanisation is what concerns me most. It’s disturbingly evident in the idea that a human being can be “illegal”; the notion of an illegal immigrant is dangerously wrong, to make someone’s existence illegal is to criminalise the very thing that makes them human. The view that those who are essentially the same as us are somehow so different that they don’t deserve the same right to existence as us is terrifying. Dehumanisation like this is what led to the vicious racism of the 70s, it’s what leads to all the bad “isms” in the world. Immigration is a human tale, not an economic one; it should be discussed in terms of how we can help people, not how we can help the economy, or the budget, or our xenophobic horniness. I’m an advocate for loose borders but not everyone has to be, that’s not the point. You might loathe immigration but that doesn’t mean you have to loathe immigrants.
I’ll admit the immigrant struggle appeals to me on a personal level. As a second generation ethnic immigrant I’m worried by the rhetoric that surrounds immigration. I’m not prepared to turn my back on those my family once were. The venom of the anti-immigrant brigade is so poisonous that I see first generation immigrants now campaigning to close our borders. I’m also worried because being anti-immigrant is unavoidably colour-centric. If the Home Office can’t carry out the “fight against immigration” without racial profiling, how can the general public?
It’s time we dealt with the truth. We’ve got bigger problems on our plate than immigration. I’m not going to repeat the “let’s all pull together” gospel, but I will say this: we’ve got a common enemy; it’s just not immigrants. We need to ask ourselves why we should bother hating and hunting people just like us, and who it is that’s pushing us in that direction. Someone’s playing divide and rule; I’ll let you speculate as to who that is.
Mo Choonara is regular contributor to Lucid Politics.