No one is illegal

Every couple of years we campaign against some new draconian anti-migrant/refugee legislation and procedures and we think ‘this is outrageous, it can’t get any worse.’  Then, a couple of years on, it does get worse, a new set of laws is proposed.

Now we are faced with legislation which says that anybody who comes to Britain by a route which is not a ‘legal route’ will be automatically denied the right to claim asylum, regardless of their circumstances.  This includes unaccompanied children, who will be deported  once they are 18 years old.  It will silence victims of modern slavery. With no sense of irony this legislation has been called the Illegal Migration Bill, when actually the Bill itself is illegal!

Legal Routes? What legal routes?  Unless you are from Afghanistan or Ukraine there are no legal routes.  After the Rwanda Plan and now this, can it get any worse surely?  Sorry, but I’m sure they will think of something. Oh yes, they already have.  Putting people into barracks.  Overcrowded, unsuitable, disease ridden. They have already tried this in the Manston barracks on the Kent Coast and this is what investigators found.  And they plan to put people on barges as well.

Open the borders

These measures are targeting people coming across the channel in the first instance but will be used against all who are seeking asylum – and eventually all of us, as we shall see. Home Secretary Suella Braverman says that these measures are necessary to stop the people smugglers and traffickers.  If she is serious about this she can do so with one stroke of the pen by ordering “Open the Borders”.  This is the central demand which anti-racists and socialists ought to be proclaiming. Why?  Because Borders Kill.

Borders kill: thousands trying to cross the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas; hundreds drowning in the English Channel; people suffocating or freezing to death in the backs of lorries, falling off trains; people forced to remain in theatres of war, murdered by tyrannical states, stranded in Cox’s Bazaar, starving to death in famine, drowning through rising water levels  and desertification caused by global warming caused mainly by the west.  Borders kill by preventing people escape death, or forcing them into taking terrible risks to do so.

No one is illegal

With no borders how can you have immigration controls?  You don’t. Immigration controls criminalise, or make you into a second-class citizen because of where you are born, where your parents were born, the language you speak, your faith, the colour of your skin… This is clearly racist and discriminatory.  Immigration controls cannot be made fair or non-racist. As Elie Weisel, Holocaust Survivor and Nobel Laureate for literature put it eloquently at a conference of the Sanctuary Movement in the USA.

“You who are so-called illegal aliens must know that no human being is ‘illegal’. That is a contradiction in terms. Human beings can be beautiful or more beautiful, they can be fat or skinny, they can be right or wrong, but illegal? How can a human being be illegal?”

Criminalising people because who they are is potentially the slippery slope to fascism. As long as the whole edifice of immigration controls remains unchallenged, more and more hideous legislation will pile up on top of it.

Immigration controls must go.  No one is illegal.

No immigration controls – surely that’s impossible

There were no immigration controls in Britain until the Aliens Act 1905.  This was passed on the back of anti-Semitic agitation against Jewish migrants and refugees.  Since then every piece of immigration legislation has been backed by agitation against one migrant community or another.

Doesn’t immigration create unemployment and undermine our wages and conditions? No. The reverse is true – immigration controls undermine working conditions by creating categories of workers who are illegal and therefore have to keep their heads down, rather than fighting the bosses. With no immigration controls we can have a united working class resistance.  Despite the vulnerability of migrant labour created by these controls, migrants are amongst the most militant trade unionists.

Fuelling the far-right and fascists

The Bill and Braverman’s vile language have caused outrage from all quarters, including even from sections of her own Tory party. Recently, 83 year-old holocaust surviver Joan Salterchallenged her language at meeting in her Fareham constituency in Hampshire, saying her strident language on migrants attempting to cross the Channel was similar to that used by the Nazis during the second world war. This was similar to the point that football presenter Gary Lineker made in his tweet, which led to his temporary suspension by the BBC.

Salter told Braverman: “In 1943, I was forced to flee my birthplace in Belgium and went across war-torn Europe and dangerous seas until I finally was able to come to the UK in 1947. When I hear you using words against refugees like ‘swarms’ and an ‘invasion’, I am reminded of the language used to dehumanise and justify the murder of my family and millions of others. Why do you find the need to use that kind of language?”

Such language is fuelling at atmosphere of hostility to refugees, bringing the racism and xenophobia of the far right into mainstream politics. 

The Left’s response

Socialists and anti-racists ought to oppose borders and immigration controls lock, stock and barrel.  However that does not mean that we ignore the specific new barbaric legislation and practices.  We must demand that these new proposals don’t become laws.  But some of the responses in opposition are themselves problematic.  People are demanding legal and safe routes – taking on the language of the government.  But what does this mean?  Either it means open the borders or it means that there will be a system where some people, probably the majority, are turned back.  There is an amendment to the legislation supported by Care for Calais and the PCS union for setting up ‘out of country’ centres where people can apply for visas to be allowed in to apply for asylum.  But presumably lots of people will be rejected for a visa and they will still be at the mercy of the smugglers.

‘What do we want, safe passage!’ is fine as far as it goes but ‘for everyone’ would be better. But the understanding is getting better.  On marches now protesters are shouting, ‘No Borders, No Nation. Stop Deportations!’

Defiance not Compliance

One of the most positive things to happen has been the refusal of workers in a variety of sectors to carry out the wishes of the Home Office. Workers are refusing to become immigration officers by proxy – in the health service, education, social work. While this is coming primarily from the rank and file, in some cases it is endorsed by the union leadership.  The most dramatic example of this was the refusal by members of the PCS union to push back migrant boats in the Channel – a strategy of former Home Secretary Priti Patel which the union rendered impossible.  This has been partly the result of some of us fighting around the slogan ‘Defiance Not Compliance’ over the last twenty years, now finally bearing fruit.

Labour Party

The response of the Labour leadership to these latest proposals has been rubbish.  Rather than challenge this depraved and immoral bill, they snipe from the sidelines, usually from the right. They complain that the Government has been inefficient; not solved ‘the problem’ after 13 years in power; that the backlog of asylum applications is getting bigger.  People’s lives are being put on the line and they find nothing better to say.  However, there are some people inside the Labour Party who are doing sterling work fighting for principles and against bigotry (Labour Campaign for Free Movement) but the Labour Party is part of the problem, not the solution.

Attack on Human Rights

Curiously, Braverman admits on the front page of the Bill that it may contravene international law.  So what is going on?  It seems to me that Britain is moving towards leaving the European Convention on Human Rights, with the abolition or serious undermining of the Human Rights Act, and maybe even the United Nations Convention on Human Rights.  It looks like the idea is to pass the Act and wait to see if it is ruled by the courts to be illegal when it is applied.  Then the Government will argue that the only way to ‘defend our borders’ is to leave these treaties and conventions. In other words, one of the objectives of the Bill is to prepare the ground for a more general attack on human rights and ‘lefty lawyers’.

These conventions are not revolutionary socialist manifestoes but they are an important line of defence for all of us. The left must raise the alarm and organise against this attack.


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