Many of our members are now afraid of approaching their MPs lest their reaching out for support be used to detain and deport them.
Fifteen leading organisations working with migrants have written to the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, to express deep concern over hundreds of cases of MPs reporting their constituents to the Home Office's immigration hotline for immigration crime.
The letter, which has been signed by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, Doctors of the World and Bail for Immigration Detainees among others, describes the revelation as a “fundamental breach of trust” which leaves many migrants fearful of approaching their MP.
Home Office figures uncovered by a parliamentary question show that 723 people have been reported by MPs for immigration enforcement since the government’s ‘hostile environment’ policy was introduced in 2012.
Right to confidentiality
Despite migrants often having “nowhere to turn” for help with immigration cases following years of legal aid cuts, the advice groups say they can no longer recommend people approach their MP for support unless the MP has signed a pledge promising not to report them to the Home Office.
The ‘MPs not Border Guards’ pledge was launched by Migrants Organise, one of the signatories of the letter, and campaign group Global Justice Now in the summer. It has been signed by more than 100 MPs from all political parties, including shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott.
Satbir Singh, chief executive of Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said: “Everyone has the right to seek advice from their MPs in a confidential and safe environment.
"Parliament must clarify whether passing constituent data to immigration enforcement breaches data protection. It must also explain to the country, under what circumstances is this practice taking place? MPs should not be taking it upon themselves to act as “border guards”, betraying the trust of their constituents and perpetuating a culture of hostility towards migrants.
"Have we not learnt anything from the scandal and tragedy of Windrush? MPs acting as border guards puts highly vulnerable people at risk, driving them further underground and into the shadows.”
Akram Salhab, campaigns and advocacy officer at Migrants Organise, said: “The demand that MPs represent all their constituents equally is a basic principle of how Parliament works. Sadly, this is yet another pillar of our democracy that has been sacrificed at the altar of the Government's Hostile Environment policies.
"Many of our members are now afraid of approaching their MPs lest their reaching out for support be used to detain and deport them. All political parties, whether in Government or not, can end this practice today by instructing their MPs not to share their constituent's data for immigration enforcement purposes."
Marianne Brooker is a contributing editor for The Ecologist. This article is based on a press release from Global Justice Now.