Alan Travis, Guardian (London), December 18, 2013
The government’s immigration bill designed to create a “hostile environment” for illegal migrants will lead to homelessness, human rights breaches and racism, MPs and peers have warned.
Parliament’s joint committee on human rights says that in particular the legislation’s proposed requirement that private landlords check tenants’ immigration status will give rise to homelessness and discrimination.
The committee’s report, published on Wednesday, says that the move could amount to “inhuman or degrading treatment” against migrants who have no right to remain in Britain but face genuine barriers to their ability to leave the country.
The MPs and peers also warn that safeguards are needed to ensure the new housing restrictions do not lead to migrant children being exposed to homelessness or to separation from their families.
Dr Hywel Francis, chair of the committee, said the MPs and peers accepted that effective immigration control was recognised by human rights law as a legitimate aim. “However, creating a ‘hostile environment’ for illegal migrants carries risks that the measures will have unintended consequences and lead to breaches of human rights and unjustified discrimination in practice,” he said.
Francis said they particularly feared the provisions requiring landlords to check on the immigration status of their prospective tenants could be applied in a way that was racially discriminatory.
The MPs and peers say this is unlawful under the Equality Act and the home secretary, Theresa May, should not bring the powers into force until the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the government’s equality office are satisfied that there are sufficient safeguards in place to prevent such discrimination arising in practice.
The MPs and peers also say they are “uneasy” about the statutory provision in the bill inserted by the home secretary that tells the courts and tribunals to give “little weight” to article 8 “right to family life” claims in immigration cases, including deportation cases.
May has defended the introduction of immigration checks to be carried out by private landlords, saying many landlords already ask about immigration status when they rent their properties. She has also told MPs that similar long-standing checks are already in force for employers when they take on new recruits.
“This will make it harder for landlords to house illegal immigrants and harder for illegal immigrants to settle in the UK,” the home secretary has told MPs.