by Andy Gregg, Chief Executive, Race on the Agenda.
The Immigration Bill is without doubt the most damaging piece of legislation for race equality and community relations that has gone before Parliament in the last 30 years. It is now over half way through its passage through Parliament and represents a concerted attack on all BAME communities – not just recently arrived migrants. The Conservative party is using the Bill to try to outdo UKIP and - to their shame - large sections of the Liberal Democrats and some Labour politicians are going along with it. Of course all previous experience shows that you can’t manage and moderate the views of extremists by following them into the gutter.
The Bill will force large sections of the population to pry into the immigration status of any black or minority ethnic person that they come across as part of their work or in other ways. Landlords, employers, vicars, priests, registrars, doctors, nurses, other public employees and even the DVLC will all have to carry out immigration checks to ensure that they are not providing a service to people who are deemed to be “illegal”. Large fines will be levied for providing a service to someone who is later deemed to be “Illegal”. This could give encouragement to anyone who wants to discriminate because they can claim that long-winded and bureaucratic checks are too expensive or time consuming and therefore that they will not risk a fine by providing a service to someone who looks or sounds like an immigrant or an ethnic minority. This kind of profiling is exactly what much equality legislation was designed to outlaw, but the Immigration Bill allow it all back in through the backdoor.
At the recent Voice for Change AGM in November, Hilary Benn MP (Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government) spoke about race equality. What he was less keen to talk about was the Immigration Bill – indeed he had to be invited to talk about it from the floor. Having said some useful and interesting things about race equality and Labour’s proud record on many equality issues, he started to become increasingly defensive in response to my question about the detail of the Bill and whether Labour would support it in Parliament – mentioning that “of course sham marriages are things that no one could support”. The aspects of the Bill that are likely to be so damaging to black and minority ethnic communities did received hardly a mention. Sadly nothing he said convinced me that, under pressure from the Daily Mail and the Sun, the Parliamentary Labour Party will resist following the Coalition Government down into the UKIP gutter.
So far the Bill has had an easy run through the House of Commons. Next week it is in the House of Lords and we are now asking them to challenge this dangerous nonsense. The Movement Against Xenophobia has launched a petition to the House of Lords which we would ask you to sign and get your friends to support. It is at: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/reject-government-inspired-xenophobia.
As the petition says, the Bill will undermine traditional British tolerance. It will sow suspicion and mistrust between people. It must be stopped! For more information visit the Movement Against Xenophobia http://movagxen.wordpress.com/max-statement/