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This year saw an increased focus on the consequences of the Government’s so-called ‘hostile environment’ policy for illegal immigrants due to the Windrush scandal. This involved cases of Windrush generation migrants, those who arrived in Britain before 1973 to help fill post-war labour shortages, being unable to work, access health treatment and in some cases being deported because they were unable to prove their settled status.

The phrase ‘hostile environment’ first surfaced in a Daily Telegraph interview with the then Home Secretary, the Rt Hon Theresa May MP, in 2012 where she expressed a desire to create “a really hostile environment for illegal immigrants.”

So, the Immigration Act 2014 widened responsibility for immigration controls throughout society. For example, some workers in public services are now required to check the immigration status of clients. Landlords and banks have to check the immigration status of new tenants and clients. This 2014 Act also introduced new powers to check and revoke the driving licenses of illegal immigrants and restricted their right to appeal and bail.

Then, the 2016 Immigration Act built on these measures by requiring banks to check the immigration status of existing customers, making it a criminal offence to drive or work when unlawfully in the UK, and granting new powers for landlords to evict tenants who are illegal immigrants.

As a result of the ‘hostile environment’ enabled through these pieces of legislation, a whole host of actors have become immigration enforcers: doctors, nurses, schoolteachers, employers and landlords. This is transforming the relationship between people and those to whom they owe a duty of care. There are concerns that these requirements are emboldening racial discrimination. Indeed, a pilot scheme in the West Midlands in 2014 showed that 42% of landlords were less likely to rent to tenants with a non-British passport. The Home Office’s own evaluation found evidence of landlords racially profiling tenants.

However, there are two arguments to note. First, the Conservative-led Governments of this decade have implemented some ‘progressive’ policies on this matter. It was the Conservative-led Coalition Government that announced in 2010 an end to the indefinite detention of families with children. This Government also banned detaining unaccompanied children for more than a day in 2014.

Second, although what happened to the Windrush generation is clearly a scandal, the British public remain in favour of measures to crackdown on illegal immigration. A poll by YouGov following the Windrush scandal showed 71% of the public supported migrants being required to show documents when taking up employment and accessing services. Eighty two percent of the public thought people should have to prove their right to be in the UK before accepting a job.

Nonetheless, in recent months, the current Home Secretary, the Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP, has emphasised creating a ‘compliant environment’ rather than a ‘hostile environment.’

Rohit Bansal is a Graduate Intern at Bright Blue. The views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue.