In all the kerfuffle of the last six months or so, one piece of news from November passed by without much comment: the Equality and Human Rights Commission declared that the government’s ‘hostile environment’ policies on immigration broke the law.
The ‘hostile environment’ refers to a number of measures introduced by Theresa May during her term as Home Secretary aimed at deterring immigrants to the UK. These made it harder for people without documentation, despite possessing the right to be in the UK, to access healthcare, get jobs, rent property and even open bank accounts. Such measures culminated with the Windrush scandal, in which at least 83 people were wrongly deported to the Caribbean.
In their report, the EHRC concluded that the Home Office did not comply with section 149 of the Equality Act 2010 in relation to understanding the impact of these hostile policies on the Windrush generation and their descendants. Furthermore, there was a “lack of commitment, including by senior leadership, to the importance of equality…there was a misconception by some officials that immigration was exempt from all equalities legislation.”
This was not the first time immigration policies were declared unlawful, either. In 2017, a court ruled that the Home Office had been using discriminatory policy to deport homeless EU citizens. Earlier this year, it was found that requiring private landlords to check the immigration status of any prospective tenants caused racial discrimination. Now that the EHRC has come to this conclusion, the Home Office has a legal duty to ensure that these policies will not be racially discriminatory.
This is especially concerning considering the recent push for further waves of deportations by current Home Secretary Priti Patel. Last month, thirteen prisoners were deported to Jamaica, on a flight that was originally intended to take 36 people. However, various challenges to the deportation meant that they were removed from the flight and their cases reviewed.
These policies, and the strong rhetoric surrounding lawyers as ‘activists’ and ‘do-gooders’ regularly spouted by Patel, show a dangerous disregard for the rights of immigrants – rights granted to every human. Without holding the politicians responsible for the “narrow focus on delivering the political commitment of reducing immigration” cited in the report, it will continue.