Theresa May’s ‘hostile’ environment: straight out of Kafka

Terrific essay by William Davies in the London Review of Books. Sample:

It is difficult to imagine anything more Kafkaesque than the experience the ‘Windrush generation’ has undergone at the hands of the British state in the past few years. Cases are accumulating of individuals seeking NHS treatment, passports, jobs or housing only to find themselves having to prove their right to live in the country where they have been legally resident for more than 45 years, or risk being deported. Harrowing stories have emerged of individuals being made homeless, jobless and stateless, after they failed to produce proof they were never given in the first place. One man suffered an aneurysm which he believes was brought on by the stress the situation caused him, only to be presented with a bill for £5000 for his NHS treatment – again because his paperwork didn’t measure up – while also losing his job and his home. He was left on the street. As it turns out, the one source of evidence that might have put a stop to this torture – the landing cards that recorded arrivals from the Caribbean until the 1960s – was destroyed by the Home Office in 2010.

The Windrush generation’s immigration status should never have been in question, and the cause of their predicament is recent: the 2014 Immigration Act, which contained the flagship policies of the then home secretary, Theresa May. Foremost among them was the plan to create a ‘hostile environment’, with the aim of making it harder for illegal immigrants to work and live in the UK. By forcing landlords, employers, banks and NHS services to run immigration status checks, the policy pushed the mentality of border control into everyday social and economic life. The 2016 Immigration Act extended it further, introducing tougher penalties for employers and landlords who fail to play their part in maintaining the ‘hostile environment’, and adding to the list of privileges that can be taken away from those who cannot prove their right to live and work in the UK.

Another key feature of the 2014 Act was that it empowered the Home Office to deport people more quickly and cheaply, avoiding lengthy and repeated appeals. The ‘deport first, appeal later’ provision was eventually ruled unlawful by the Supreme Court. The Act greatly restricted the right to appeal via tribunal, replacing most appeals with an administrative review carried out by the Home Office itself. Before the Act was introduced, 50 per cent of appeals were upheld at tribunal; at administrative review, the figure is 18 per cent.

The more we learn about what has happened to these people, the worse it seems. It demonstrates above all what can happen to a society when a section of it becomes paranoid about immigration.