Who was the government’s divisive immigration scheme really targeting?
The right to be free from discrimination and to be considered innocent until proven guilty is a fundamental liberty which we all should have. We rely upon our government to enforce these rights everyday so that we can go about our lives without fear of being persecuted or humiliated. We elect our governments on the basis of who we consider best able to protect these unquestionable entitlements, and then take to the streets in protest when we believe that they are failing. So when last month saw our Home Office implementing controversial schemes for tackling illegal immigration, the nation, including some King’s students, responded with an uproar of complaints and tweets. But were these schemes a genuine way of tackling the immigration problem, or just tactical politics to win back more right wing voters?
The Home Office schemes which fired up the nation involved billboards, text ads and the driving of vans around North London bearing the message “In the UK illegally? Go home or face arrest”. Not only did the image of handcuffs against the black background make the campaign look threatening as opposed to helpful, the message “Go Home” struck a nerve, as many immigrants consider the UK to be their home whether they have the legal right to reside here or not. This particularly affected one student, who claimed “whether or not this was tactical politics, I’ve been made to feel uncomfortable and embarrassed in my own country because of my heritage”. One History student argued “the scheme is ridiculous, offensive and really inadequate. Any competent English speaker would find it difficult to read threatening messages on a moving van, let alone any non-English speakers”. But like with most high profile government campaigns, it wasn’t long before the public began to express their disapproval through humour, by mildly trolling the Home Office with texts asking for traffic updates, train times, and one man who asked if he needed a visa to get home to Willesden Green.
While outraged reactions to the van scheme were still simmering in the media, the Home Office proceeded to photograph police and UK border officials arresting suspected illegal immigrants and posted them on Twitter with the hashtag #immigrationoffenders. One English student was particularly angered by this and argued “the fact that they photographed the arrests and then published them online as if they’d already been convicted and found guilty is disgraceful and really unfair, even pixelating the image won’t be any consolation to the man who’s been arrested out of potential racial profiling”. It seems the suspected illegal immigrants had not been identified and targeted based on intelligence, but had instead been stopped in public based on the colour of their skin. Such action amounts to racial profiling, and the Home Office has since been warned that it is to be investigated by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).
To fully understand why these measures have been taken, we must really question how effective these schemes could be and what message they are sending out about the Home Office’s loss of control of the problem. One Medicine student commented: “These schemes are just a way for the Home Office to look like they are making headway with a difficult issue, but aren’t actually achieving anything beyond wasting money which could be spent on more sophisticated ways to solve the immigration problem”.
So what exactly did the Home Office have in mind with these campaigns? Either they genuinely believed these measures could be successful, or they were designed for some other purpose. If the former is true, it would seem we really are in trouble. We would be forced to accept that we have a Home Office that acts without direction, has possible racist motivations and is seemingly inadequate. For one, it seems unlikely that anyone who has made the conscious decision to break the law and remain in the UK illegally is going to be persuaded by a van telling them they may face arrest.
So what else could they be trying to achieve? In a time when the Conservatives are losing right wing voters to Ukip and anti-European and immigration politics are winning support at a quickening rate, perhaps the government feels that it should be seen to be doing something to tackle the issue in a way that really grabs the nation’s attention. One particularly interesting point a Politics student made was “If they’re trying to show people that they’re doing something about it and are in control, then advertising their failings on mobile billboards seems a bit self-deprecating. It’s almost the equivalent of police attempting to show they’re getting on top of unsolved rape and murder cases by driving around shouting ‘we know you must be out there so please follow us to the nearest police station.'”
It seems that either the Home Office is wildly implementing immoral and possibly illegal tactics because of being powerless to solve the problem of illegal immigration, or they are deploying said tactics in a desperate attempt to regain lost support from voters on the right.