The best criterion by which to decide whether someone has been forced outside the pale of the law is to ask if he would benefit by committing a crime. If a small burglary is likely to improve his legal position, at least temporarily, one may be sure he has been deprived of human rights…The same man who was in jail yesterday because of his mere presence in this world, who had no rights whatever and lived under threat of deportation, or who was dispatched without sentence and without trial to some kind of internment because he had tried to work and make a living, may become almost a full-fledged citizen, because of a little theft.
Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism.
Denying known illegal migrants the ability to continue to access banking services (including accounts opened before they overstayed) will make it harder for them to establish or maintain a settled life in the UK and should incentivise voluntary departure.
The Home Office assures us no one with a valid visa will have their name accidentally placed on the list, and that only 6000 illegal migrants will have their bank account frozen.
The Home Office assures us the only people who have to worry about not being able to feed themselves are people who overstay, who are working without a work permit. An initial 6000 people, 0.009% of the population who are dragging down our wages and destroying our working conditions. And Brutus is an honourable man.
This is about making Britain a hostile environment for illegal migrants and failed asylum seekers.
Britain isn’t a hostile environment for them at the moment.
In 2013, Theresa May sent vans with “Go Home” emblazoned on the side to areas with a big minority population. Well, she said she did, but actually there were only ever two vans. One for the photo opp, and one to stop it being just a cheap photo opp. Once it was in the press, the job was really done.
The 2014 Immigration act required landlords to check the immigration status of prospective tenants. So now people with a foreign accent have to prove their right to stay when they try to find somewhere to live.
The same law could require GPs to inquire as to the residency status of their patients.
Section 44 of the Immigration Act 2016 makes it illegal to drive a car if you know or suspect that you don’t have a legal right to be in the country. It’s difficult to make out someone’s residency status if they are driving at or around the speed limit, so the safest bet for enforcing that to focus on stopping people who look the most, well, migratory.
And now the Home Secretary will give British banks the names of those who work without a permit, overstay their visa or have their asylum claim turned down. Banks are to freeze their accounts in the hope they’ll do us all a favour and just leave. Then they can have their money back. And then another set of names will be released, and we can all be reminded once again, that the Home Office is watching, ever ready to ensure a hostile environment to those who don’t belong here.
The same Home Office that sent hundreds of letters out to EU citizens, wrongly telling them to go home can be trusted to correctly identify the right bank accounts. No one else need worry.
But even if that’s true (it isn’t) but let’s examine the hypothetical. Let’s allow that the Home Office is as scrupulous and efficient as they would need to be to prevent the wrong people having their money frozen by government decree. Does that make this any better?
Is this a principle we’re happy with? Once your immigration status becomes unfavourable, the government is free to inflict bureaucratic misery upon you until you give up and go home. Maybe after a spell of indefinite detention in centres that drive people to attempt suicide every year.
This might only apply to criminals. Illegal migration is a crime (the clue is in the name after all). But it affects all of us. It’s not just migrants who are already disproportionately stopped while driving, for decades it has been black people. This will only get worse.
It wont just be people who overstay their visa who face suspicion when they try to rent a house. It will be anyone with a foreign name, or a funny accent. Failed asylum seekers are not the only ones who should worry if people with tuberculosis avoid treatment because they’re worried about their immigration status.
People who worry about migration often give the impression that the borders of the UK are porous, but increasingly it is the border regime that lacks definition. Whereas once it patrolled the entry and exit points of the country, now it patrols ever increasing aspects of our lives. Schools, homes, banks, transport. At any point, people who don’t look like they belong can be subject to checks and interrogation. This is not just an infringement of the rights of 6000 illegal migrants. If it doesn’t mean you, it might mean your friend, it might mean your partner, or your child.
Even if no-one you know is ever asked to prove their immigration status, you are still demeaned. Every time we freeze bank accounts, or send out racist vans, we push the line of decency back a little further. We grant the government a little more licence to say that there is less and less that is beyond the pale. We make daily life coarser and less civil for those who overstay their visa. And for everyone else.