Immigration Controls – don’t lose sight of their meaning.

I’m anxious. Earlier this week, the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination came and went. Yet there was not so much as a peep out of the on-line progressive community on the obviously related question of immigration.

So there was nothing about the anti-semitic/anti -refugee sentiments that inspired the first modern set of immigration controls – the 1905 Aliens Act.

There was nothing about Mosley’s fascist movement and its role in keeping Black British subjects out of the UK following the passage of the 1962 Commonwealth Immigrants Act, and practices adopted under it.

There was nothing about the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1968 and the withdrawal of rights of entry and settlement from the East African Asians. These were people with British passports who were de facto refugees, with no-where to go following Africanisation under rulers such as Idi Amin.

And there was nothing about the codification of what was effectively a colour bar in our 1971 Immigration Act  through the concept of patriality. And yup, you guessed it, there was nothing on the practice of subjecting South Asian brides to compulsory virginity testing on arrival at UK  airports in the 1980s.

And no, there was certainly nothing about what Sivandan terms modern day ‘xeno racism.’ This is ‘racism not exclusively directed at those with darker skins, from the former colonial territories, but at the newer categories – the displaced, dispossessed and the uprooted.’  Conducted through more respectable means – ‘selective’ points based systems, visa controls, readmission treaties, carriers’ liability, and some not so respectable means- incarceration of immigrants and creation of parallel systems of support –  their effects are every bit as harmful as those above.

Sanitising immigration talk

A colleague of mine yesterday presented a copy of a draft speech he was due to deliver about labour migration. The detail is unimportant, but the ingredients are. In short they can be summarised as:  facts, figures, deregulation of markets, dependency ratios, economic benefits of immigrants, economic benefits of immigrants, and some more facts and figures….

Now, whilst no-one for one second would wish to suggest that progressives should not try to make the case for immigration through this sort of approach- this is after-all to some extent what our I Love Migrants campaign is designed to do, what is worrying is the growing tendency to reduce fundamental political questions of human movement almost exclusively to an exercise in ‘academic’ ‘evidenced-based’ number crunching or questions of law.

This sanitises and depoliticises the question of immigration. It also decouples immigration not only from ordinary people, but from wider considerations of  justice and the idea of human rights – we each matter by virtue of our shared humanity and for that reason, should be given equal chances to flourish.

Restoring the link between immigration, human rights and justice

Whatever your views on immigration controls, the fact remains that they are an institutionalised mechanism through which other human beings are labelled “undesirable”. They are designed to prevent other human beings from accessing precisely those benefits – safety,  meaningful work, decent wages, the ability to enjoy life with our family for example- all of which allow us to lead a meaningful and dignified existence. To work their magic, in practice, they require societal acceptance of the relevant categorisation.

And yes, the application of controls necessarily entails – all be it  democratically sanctioned use of grotesque violence and coercion. And let’s face it, this sometimes involves killing other human-beings.  To lose sight of all of this is, together with our own history of control is, one fears,  to condemn progressive movements to a near-certain failure.

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

One response to “Immigration Controls – don’t lose sight of their meaning.

  • Heather

    A look inside any of the immigration detention centres in the UK may suggest that there still is a colour bar in this country

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