Dear Lib Dem MPs,
We Liberal Democrats have long been proud of our internationalism and compassionate stance towards refugees and immigration. Not an ‘open borders’ party, but a party which believes controlling our borders does not conflict with welcoming newcomers or upholding their human rights.
By contrast the Conservatives care little for rights, European or otherwise. Theresa May is engaged in creating a “hostile environment” made so unpleasant for “irregular migrants” will simply pack up and leave, and minority ethnic British citizens could end up being racially-profiled if they ‘look foreign.’ This approach is diametrically opposed to the values I believe Liberal Democrats hold dear.
A YouGov poll showed that public concern about migration is mainly focussed on our borders proving there is no demand to make life intolerable for those already here.
The new Immigration Bill does nothing to make Home Office bureaucracy any more efficient, preferring instead to deny accommodation and healthcare regardless of the human misery it causes in homelessness and illness.
Our party is currently consulting on our own asylum and immigration policy. I would guess we are unlikely to agree to the kind of punitive approach proposed in the Bill. As our parliamentarians you should therefore decline to support a Bill that is essentially for the benefit of the Tory election strategy to head-off UKIP.
Members haven’t voted for this approach. It was not in the coalition agreement, and I know you didn’t enter politics to vote for this kind of legislation.
This is the eighth piece of legislation on asylum and immigration since 1997, none of them improving the way the system works, each one being progressively chipping away at migrants’ rights.
Successive governments have argued that public concern needs to be addressed yet the lesson over the past 16 years is that Right-wing tabloids and commentators are never sated. They always want to go further and each Act paves the way for an even harsher Act. Our party, with our values, should be the first to bravely come off this negative hamsters’ wheel.
Rather than curtail the ability of our independent judiciary to overturn officials decisions and weaken the right to family life by undermining Article 8 of European Convention of Human Rights Theresa May needs to improve initial decision-making by her department.
A £3,000 fine for landlords seeks to turn them into border officials. Legitimate landlords are ill-equipped to understand the wide variety of immigration statuses and they will end up demanding proof of immigration status from every would-be tenant but more likely profiling those who ‘look like’ immigrants.
This could take us back to the bad old days of the 1960s and 70s when landlords hung signs saying “No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs” in their windows, and as Liberal Democrats we cannot be associated with such a backward step in race relations.
We do not want a Britain where Black and Asian citizens are routinely asked to produce their papers.
It is hardly unusual for migrants not to have original documents in their possession anyway, especially when they are gathering dust in the Home Office, and the measure certainly won’t stop unscrupulous ‘bed-in-a-shed’ landlords who are already outside the law.
Making it harder for already vulnerable, often distressed, people to access a roof over their heads or a bank account puts them further outside society and is more likely to drive them underground where they face exploitation from the criminal fraternity which ministers rightly say they also want to crack down on.
The Bill also risks creating a climate where prospective employers do not want to ‘take the chance’ that the candidate may not have permission to work due to confusion surrounding the documents they carry.
This is a deeply illiberal Bill and I would ask you to vote against it.
* Issan Ghazni is Chair of the Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats and former National Diversity Adviser for the Liberal Democrats. Issan blogs here