Changing the territory we work on

Effecting change in an unfashionable area such as immigration can prove a challenge. Parliamentarians are largely uninterested, it’s rarely a ‘hot’ issue amongst campaigners like war, cuts or education, but there are many people who care about the welfare of immigrants, the racism they face and the appalling treatment they get from the state, employers, other individuals and authorities.

I♥M was originally designed to have an impact on the election campaign of 2010. With a good but limited effect, we spent some time thinking about how best to further use the name and the idea of creating a more level playing field on which to have the debate over immigration.

It would be difficult for even the more churlish to deny that currently the debate is dominated by an anti-immigration consensus, that organisations like JCWI are in a minority and that we have to fight our way into contention

Rather than limit a campaign within the constraints of a charitable organisation, we have decided to give I♥M a life of its own. With our participation, a committee of thinkers, migrants, opinion formers and activists has been pulled together and it’s had two meetings so far this year.

We’ve explored the main areas of focus and activity we identified for attention. We discussed four broad areas; the media, challenging the influence of Migration Watch, creating a group of activists and humanising the debate.

The Media

Too often newspapers will print articles strewn with twisted truths, half truths, myths or rumours and these will go unchallenged to any serious degree. These articles serve to reinforce the status quo – that of an unquestioned anti-immigration norm.

Interest groups formed around different policy areas (for example Israeli interests, anti-immigration, the motoring lobby) are very efficient in complaining, getting their points of view across, and generally kicking up when they don’t agree with what’s been published. Some of this may be corporate or right wing trust funded astro-turfing but that needn’t mean we shouldn’t raise our game.

We need to publicise the procedures of the press complaints commission with a view to encouraging more complaints, to exploit the letters pages of local and national newspapers and to make sure there’s a reasoned voice in radio phone ins, online debates. Progressives concerned with migrant welfare and the positive side of immigration need to get wise to this kind of action.

Migration Watch

Four years ago, Andrew Green, former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, was a marginal figure in UK politics and media. Over those four years, by supplying data which often does not stand up to scrutiny, and scare stories to newspapers who are very keen to print such material, he and his organisation have become the rent-a-quote outfit of the anti-immigration camp. He has become mainstream, quoted not simply in the Mail and the Express, but also on the BBC and in ‘quality’ broadsheet newspapers. The trouble is, there’s no challenge to this.

The data or the story gets printed, and scrutiny happens on a few little visited websites. The news cycle moves on and we’ve missed the chance to get a correction, retraction or apology, another story soon appears. We’d like to have a public debate with Migration Watch, perhaps a number of debates, there’s a whole advisory board of people there to choose from (12 of them in total). We hope they will be willing to meet us in debates in the coming months.

Building a Group

Currently about 15 people make up the I♥M committee and it is obvious that we have outlined far too much work for 15 people! For any campaign to succeed, activists and supporters are necessary. We propose to hold debates and meetings in universities and colleges and to put together a stall with campaigning materials to get people engaged and to build up a vast email list to keep in constant communication with those who want to get involved.

Humanising the debate

For quite some time now, the immigration debate has revolved around the question of economics; first with New Labour’s Points Based System and now with the Conservative’s Immigration Cap.

This conveniently forgets the real stories of migrant life, and the suffering caused by callous policies produced in an attempt to appease tabloid editors, informed by Migration Watch, thus helping to swing the debate against having empathy for immigrants, and keeping the debate impersonal and clinical, hardly favourable terrain for progressives. The I ♥ Immigrants’ facebook site goes some way to showing what can be done in this quarter by profiling an immigrant each. It highlights the positive contribution each of these people has made to the welfare and culture of the UK. We’d like to expand on this idea, and not to concentrate on the ‘names’ and the more famous examples.

So, we’re now thrashing our a PR and action strategy, we’re looking at an overhaul of the I♥M website, and raring to go to start effecting real change. That’s what we’ve sketched out, it’s early days, and we want to get more people on board – at all levels. Despite immigration being a pretty unfashionable campaigning area, we’re delighted at the amount of energy and enthusiasm we’ve come across. We’re working with real change in mind.

Do you want a piece of that action? If so, drop us a line: guy.taylor@jcwi.org.uk

About jcwi

Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants is a key campaigning voice in the field of immigration, asylum and nationality law and policy. It is completely independent from government funding, remaining entirely free from government influence. View all posts by jcwi

2 responses to “Changing the territory we work on

  • Pat Elsmie

    Please let me know of your plans!

  • rowandavies

    Good stuff, is heartening to see people campaigning in this area. You may well already know that Refugee Action has just announced that it’s stopping its campaigning activities because its funding’s been slashed; have you been in contact with RA, Refugee Council and other orgs working in this area to see how you can coordinate activities?

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