It's time to open the borders

It's time to open the borders

No one is illegal — A new report has concluded that Home Office immigration policies aren’t fit for purpose. Writer Ben Smoke argues that it’s time to stop trying to fix the unfixable and instead focus on bolder futures.

Instead of relying on evidence, the Home Office chooses to draw up immigration policy based on “anecdote, assumption and prejudice”. That’s the conclusion the Public Accounts Committee came to in a damning new report on the role and function of immigration enforcement. It also found that officials had “no idea” what the department’s £400m annual spending on this actually achieves. 

This should, of course, come as little surprise. The litany of failures and incompetence detailed within the report – from the lack of actual evidence or data on the ‘illegal’ population within the UK,  to the simple fact that the department has no idea if its hostile environment policies are actually effective in deterring ‘illegal’ migration – are a shameful but predictable indictment. 

Meg Hillier MP, who chairs the influential committee, concluded that the Home Office has “frighteningly little grasp” of the impact of its activities. She also declared that it shows “little intent to change”, warning the next scandal to be “just around the corner”. 

The report, damning as it is, gives the Home Office six months to come up with a solution. It’s clear, though, that we are just going round in circles. In a globalised world teetering on the edge of irreversible climate change, with many across the global south already facing the devastating effects, we have to accept that attempting to police, control and reinforce our border isn’t just arrogant and privileged – it’s patently stupid. 

The world has changed, and continues to do so at a rapid pace. The answer isn’t to give the department’s immigration enforcement directorate another six months to sort itself out – it’s to disband it. The solution to a decades-long fight along the border – that we continue to ‘lose’ by our own standards – isn’t to double down, it’s to transform our thinking. Let’s be clear what I mean by this: we should not be policing our borders.

Every human being has worth, value and, fundamentally, rights. The limit of those rights should not just be those granted to us through legal frameworks like the Human Rights Act. We must be as ambitious for others as we are for ourselves: every human being should be allowed to work, to access safe housing, food, water, and sanctuary; a right to happiness and safety and love. There is nothing to be truly gained from our current relationship with our borders beyond the further entrenchment of far-right ideology and nationalism into the mainstream, as well as the denigration of people of colour. 

When it comes to anti-immigration arguments, we must be bold and tackle them head-on. When they say we are “full up”, we must point them towards the 2013 study that showed double the land used for housing (one per cent) in the UK is used for golf courses (two per cent). 

When they warn of billions flooding in, we must point them to the furore around the expected “influx” of Bulgarian and Romanian workers into the country after border controls were relaxed at the beginning of 2014. We can show them that despite predictions of “hundreds of thousands” the number of Romanian and Bulgarian people working in the country actually fell in the first quarter of the year to 122,000, before rising to 132,000 in the second quarter – a far cry from the “5,000 a week for a few years” that Farage predicted. We must point to the marked difference between the hysteria and histrionics of people like Farage and reality. 

When they point to a lack of resources, or the very real strain the NHS is already facing, we must be unwavering in our assertion that, while services, facilities and opportunity have been devastated by a decade of cuts, there is more than enough wealth in the sixth richest country in the world for everyone to be fed, educated, kept healthy, housed and happy. We must make it clear that austerity has nothing to do with the migrant population, and everything to do with the priorities of the political elite. We must point to successive Government’s failure to properly tax the rich, or to ensure giant corporations to pay their fair share, or to invest billions in a new nuclear deterrent instead of in the welfare of the people of this country. 

When they argue for the deportation of ‘foreign national offenders’, we must not give an inch. The assumption that someone being released from prison will re-offend points to a wider view that the Criminal Justice System is not fit for purpose – instead of punitively punishing people twice, it would surely be better, and safer, to transition to a justice system with rehabilitation at its core. If they continue to push for deportation, we should be bold and proud of defending the rights of everyone against double punishment for a crime enshrined within the Human Rights Act. 

Because, when we look back, it is abundantly clear that generation after generation of immigration has shaped this country for the better. Whether it be material contributions, supporting the NHS, or the simple act of being here – bringing with them another voice, another viewpoint, another set of experiences to help shape who we are. The ‘indefensibility’ of our border that so many continue to point to only reinforces to the idea that they will soon become obsolete. But beyond all of this, the moral imperative to stand with those seeking the relative safety, stability and sanctuary that we take for granted every day is too great to ignore. 

The challenges are clear, but we do not win arguments by avoiding them. Nobody is saying it can or should happen tomorrow. The idea of opening borders must just be one part of a radical, socialist platform for completely transforming this country to work for the people of it, not the profit of a few. But immigration enforcement must be suspended. Because the arguments are there to be won and the gains are there to be made – if we only try. 

Follow Ben Smoke on Twitter.

Enjoyed this article? Like Huck on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.