A response to MP Andrew Mitchell’s blog on Immigration removal centres

I happened across this blog by Andrew Mitchell MP where he discusses Immigration detention in the UK. It started well, I found myself agreeing, however the further in I went, the more problematic it felt. I was going to reply in a thread on Twitter, but I had a lot to say. May I first say that it is great to see a Conservative MP acknowledging the harms of detention. But it falls short, in my opinion, of fully appreciating the reality of our immigration system.

The sentiment underpinning this blog I fully agree with. As he says;

Imagine, if you can, living in a country that imprisons people not suspected of any crime, without the agreement of a judge, and with no release date.

This is not a dystopian fantasy or the practice of some distant authoritarian state, but the reality of life in the UK for around 30,000 people each year.

Immigration detention in the UK is hugely problematic. As he asserts, there is little or no judicial oversight, we maintain a system of indefinite detention. I fully agree with him that this is a “gross infringement of liberty”.

I also fully agree with his comments concerning the treatment and conditions people face in detention. However, what he does fail to acknowledge is the systemic abuse of people detained in these centres, such as the concerns raised at Brook House. It also fails to recognise the complete inability to keep people safe, with many deaths this year alone occurring in IRC’s. I am hopeful to see acknowledged in his blog the harm done to those who are subject to detention in respect to their emotional and mental health.

However, immigration detention does not exist in isolation. I would like to draw attention to a few more quotes in this blog;

In 11 immigration removal centres, mostly close to major airports, people are detained as an administrative convenience by our Home Office.

This is not about the pros and cons of one immigration policy over another.

I would like to first challenge that these centre’s exist as an “administrative convenience”. A study by South Bank University found that when following a group of asylum seekers released on Bail following a period of detention, 90% complied with the requirements of that bail and a proportion of those people went on to be removed from the UK, yet still complied. In the year ending June 2017 27,819 people (137 of which were children) were detained under immigration powers. Only 12,542 were removed. Then 10,642 were enforced returns. There are then many cases out there where leave is granted following a period in detention, making their stay in detention even more unjustified.

This little snapshot does not feel to me like an administrative process. What it feels like is a tool. A tool which is used to back those liable to detention into a corner to consider return and take steps, regardless of whether they may have the basis of a claim or not. A high enough number end up with valid claims. There is also, from limited studies a reasonable enough ground to work from that suggests bail should be a safe option for the vast majority. The realistic picture is that detention is not used as a last resort, it is not used in the interests of protection or safety. It is used as a tool.

The assertion that this is not about the pros and cons of wider immigration policy and in general, all policy is frankly absurd. For example, using the above example of those with valid claims who still face detention. Savage cuts to legal aid for immigration matters, the introduction of high application fees and health surcharges all serve to price people out of making legal applications and regularising their status. Therefore, those with grounds for an application in detention are even less likely to be able to exercise their rights, both human and those within the immigration rules. Outside of detention, these policies make regularising status harder for many migrants. So you need to pay for an application, but you are detained, you have no right to work, you can’t have a bank account either if you have been without documentation to prove entitlement. It’s a position that effectively sets people up.

Then there is the economic case. The immigration industrial complex makes money, lots of it. There is an economic interest in detention what with the privatisation of a huge array of immigration services, including detention. There is a economic interest in locking people up for immigration matters.

The immigration industrial complex also exists within a wider hostile environment against migrants in the United Kingdom designed to make it as hard as possible for those with precarious status to sustain themselves in this country. These are polices that are very intentional and feed the secure estate. These are just a few examples of why it is ludicrous to think about detention outside of wider immigration policy. What’s even harder to swallow is that I fully agree with his assertion that this is a civil liberty issue and a human rights issue, so it should be even more embarrassing that it is his government that has not only allowed but encourages and furthers the policy that permits it.

As these policies are largely drawn down racial lines also either implicitly or through enforcement bias, we need to strongly consider the impact on British nationals too. There has been an emergence of research in 2017 that detail the implications on the hostile environment on black and ethnic minority people who are British nationals, caught up in checks and the impact of these policies. This makes the detention debate and the wider debate on the hostile environment for everyone, not just those subject to it.

Now the bit that really gets me and at least for me, totally discredits everything that he has tried positively to highlight in this blog;

Civil liberties are not just the province of the deserving people of Royal Sutton Coldfield, but of the less deserving and the vulnerable, too.

Im sorry, the less deserving???

This is exactly why it is about policy and it is exactly why it cannot be viewed in isolation. He has done the job for me — He has categorised the deserving and the undeserving. He is asserting that there are those less deserving of something — Belonging? Identity? Safety? Rights? My question is what exactly are whoever he is categorising with this less deserving of? What is it that in his world makes them, whoever they are, less deserving than the frankly majority white middle class of Royal Sutton Coldfield?

The debate is not just about the pros and cons of policy. It is about how the immigration debate exists within systems such as power and class. We need to consider what it is we are protecting — The answer is white middle class interests. The language we use when discussing it is incredibly important. I attended a roundtable today as part of the #unlocked17 campaign where a key part of the day focused around categorisation and the language we use in relation to migrant rights and immigration. Something that came up a lot during the day was this exact distinction, the very problematic deserving / less or undeserving discourse. It is this, I think, that in part fuels the perceived need for these centres — To calm the moral panics brought about by this conservative governments hostile policies, the discourse around immigration and Brexit fuelled by incompetence and fear. The idea that some people, in the eyes of those with the power can be considered “less deserving”.

So while I fully agree with this MP’s sentiment that IRC’s are harmful, he completely misses the point, or in sheer ignorance, refuses to acknowledge that IRCs exist within a wider hostile climate enforced by his government. Policies and practices that create the need for detention. It is short sighted and out right dangerous to suggest that this cannot be considered as part of wider immigration policy, it is the only reason why it exists as last time I checked, movement was not inherently criminal, it has been criminalised through successive legislation and policy.

Furthermore, the reckless drawing of a deserving / undeserving narrative just goes to show the sheer audacity to suggest that some we may consider less deserving, but we will be nice and give them their civil liberties. It is again this narrative that creates the need for detention, it creates the need for enforcement, it creates the ‘other’ that allows that cash cow that is the immigration industrial complex to thrive. It also, on a more personal note, reeks of privilege and power and is statement dripping with disdain.

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