As part of the UK’s ‘preparation’ for Brexit, a bill called the Immigration and Social Security Coordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill is currently before Parliament.
The purpose of the bill is ‘to end free movement of persons into the UK and make European Union (EU), European Economic Area (EEA) and Swiss nationals and their family members subject to UK immigration controls’. But could it also address more broadly the future direction of the UK’s immigration system as a whole?
If so, the question of what to do about the UK’s practice of indefinite immigration detention must be part of that discussion. Is it #Time4aTimeLimit?
Immigration detention is not going to disappear after Brexit, which is set to expand the scope of the ‘Hostile Environment’. An end to the free movement rights of EU nationals in the UK means more than three millions of our friends, colleagues, neighbours and families will have to obtain ‘settled status’ from the Home Office in a country that they have called their home for a long time. And when such status change does not go smoothly for some reason, more EU nationals could face detention and deportation, alongside non-EU nationals.
Whether Brexit goes ahead or not, it is clear the need to pressure the government to reduce its use of detention and, instead, develop a system that does not rely on detention, continues. And that’s why we are encouraging everyone to contact their MP and ask them to work with us to demand a 28 day detention time limit during the passage of this bill. You can use our ‘Why 28 days?’ briefing if you would like to.
In fact, bills are an excellent occasion for campaigners and advocates to advance their cause. However, it is vital to remember that bills are only ever part of a campaign – they are never an end in themselves. Even if we did get a 28 day time limit eventually, it’s hard to imagine that that will be the end of the anti-detention campaign.
So why are bills an important part of a campaign?
1) Bills offer an opportunity to focus our minds. They force us to think concretely about how a legislative change we desire should actually work on the ground. For example, if there is a 28 day time limit, how will the Home Office have to work? How will the courts work? How will individuals affected by detention navigate a new system? All these abstract questions suddenly become very real during the bill process, and make us think further. These mental exercises can make our arguments stronger.
2) Bills give campaigners an excuse to talk to parliamentarians, media and other influencers about an issue – and to do so together with others. When we talk about a 28 day time limit, we have to talk more generally about the whole of the immigration system, about the devastating impact of detention on people’s mental health and social relations, and how and why fairness and humanity must be core principles that underpin the immigration system. And needless to say, people with direct experience of detention should be at the centre of these conversations. By having conversations with others, we have an opportunity not just to educate others but also to learn their views, giving us vital intelligence which should inform our future campaigning strategy. We can also develop new working relationships through these conversations.
3) Bills create an opportunity for an issue to be debated in parliament. Bill process is punctuated by different types of stages, which means that the same issue can be raised and discussed on several occasions. It is possible, for example, to secure Ministerial commitments on the floor of the house on some key issues, promises that Ministers have to keep in the future. This can help us put more pressure on the government.
And of course, bills can be an opportunity to successfully pass an amendment and change the law. But their processes, and what happens before, after and outside them, are equally important if the change in the law is going to be a genuine expression of the change in the minds and the hearts of people in this country, which will change attitudes, approaches, practices, which will change lives of people affected by immigration detention. And for that change to happen, we need lots of people doing lots of different things in lots of different spaces. We hope you continue to campaign for a 28 day time limit on immigration detention during the passage of the bill, be part of that long chain of action which delivers the change, and continue to demand more changes beyond the bill.
Eiri Ohtani @EiriOhtani