The immigration wars engulfing politics in Britain are roaring on. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s pledge to “stop the boats” carrying asylum seekers across the English Channel is facing stiff opposition within his own party. Last week, former Prime Minister Theresa May delivered a blistering attack in Parliament on the government’s Illegal Migration Bill, arguing that the bill’s provision to limit grounds for asylum and assistance based on claims of slavery would “consign victims to remain in slavery.”
Immigration policy cannot be neatly separated from infringements on our liberties at home.
May is right. The bill’s provisions would remove victims of modern slavery who cross the channel before they have the chance to appeal for protection in the U.K. Not only is denying relief to genuine victims who don’t have a legal route to asylum in the U.K. cruel, but it’s also unnecessary: According to the International Organization for Migration, “only 7 per cent of individuals arriving in small boats” claim to be “victims of modern slavery.”
Protecting victims of slavery — safeguarding people’s basic right to liberty — is actually one of the few things the government ought to be doing. Sadly, under this bill, the U.K. will shirk this responsibility under the pretext of controlling immigration.
The overarching purpose of the Illegal Migration Bill is to remove legal impediments to swiftly deporting channel-crossers to Rwanda while their appeals are processed.
One of the main legal barriers to this policy is the due process protection in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). This includes Protocol 1, Article 7’s protection against state punishment without violation of the law; Article 13’s right to an “effective remedy before a national authority”; and Protocol 7, Article 1’s protection for the right to legal representation in deportation proceedings. Since the European Court of Human Rights stopped the first flights to Rwanda in June 2022, anti-immigration voices on the right have called for the ECHR to be circumvented or even scrapped outright.
The ECHR is far from perfect. For one thing, it creates a whole host of fake positive rights to things like education and social security, which impose binding obligations for higher taxes and a bigger state. Most of the genuine rights enumerated in the ECHR are full of caveats — such as Protocol 1, Article 10’s protection of free expression, which also specifies a whole host of grounds on which national government can, in fact, violate the right to free expression. But one thing that the ECHR gets right is its rigorous protections for due process. The Right wants to get rid of those, especially when they constrain its favored policy outcomes.
As citizens and lawful residents, the government’s disdain for due process should alarm us all. If we accept the abridgment of asylum seekers’ rights for short-term policy gain, what’s going to stop the government from undermining our own due process rights the next time they become an inconvenient impediment? (READ MORE: Can Joe Biden Ignore Immigration Law?)
The British state already has form on this; the common law protection against double jeopardy has already been diluted. Courts are denying defendants the right to present certain defenses to juries in trials of environmental extremists for obstructing roads or damaging property. In Scotland, the right to a trial by jury is even being questioned because legal elites aren’t finding it easy enough to prosecute sex crime allegations.
Due process isn’t the only right that anti-migrant figures are willing to put on the chopping block. Last year, Labour Party Leader Sir Keir Starmer’s revival of Blair-era proposals for universal ID cards was supported by right-wing voices like commentator Darren Grimes and members of Parliament like Sir Edward Leigh on the grounds of verifying people’s legal statuses. While the Right claims to be battling the rising tide of cultural and political authoritarianism, it seems happy enough to turn Britain into a “show me your papers” state with weak judicial protections so long as it gets to see immigrants shipped off to central Africa.
I’m afraid I think we do need ID cards; we’re at a point in our national story when we haven’t a clue how many undocumented people reside on our shores and are up to goodness only knows what. It’s an issue of national security.
— Darren Grimes (@darrengrimes_) November 8, 2022
Britain is not the only Western country increasingly sacrificing civil liberties to accommodate closed borders. Last month, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) highlighted how tough immigration enforcement infringes on American citizens’ freedom when he protested his party’s proposals to expand E-Verify checks on employers to ensure that their employees have a legal right to work in America. Massie said:
You shouldn’t have to go through a NICS database to exercise your Second Amendment [rights]. You shouldn’t have to go through an E-Verify database to exercise your basic fundamental right to trade labor for sustenance.
The point that Massie raises should resonate with people across the political spectrum who want to defend our precious civil liberties. When the government imposes restrictions on people’s right to work, it doesn’t just abridge their right to peacefully move and exchange their labor. It also places every employment transaction under the microscope of government surveillance.
Because the government has enacted a vast program of border enforcement, every prospective American employer and employee is considered guilty of an immigration offense until proven innocent and, as a consequence, is subject to routine government surveillance. This clearly undermines their Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendment rights against unwarranted searches and presumption of guilt — and that’s before we address the abridgment of their rights to free association and making a living.
Whether E-Verify is expanded or not, Americans have already suffered myriad abridgments of their civil liberties due to tough border enforcement. In just one example, Fourth Amendment protections against unwarranted searches are weakened for almost two-thirds of Americans who live within 100 miles of the border. This is the case because border authorities have greater legal latitude for justifying and conducting searches on immigration grounds.
Immigration policy cannot be neatly separated from infringements on our liberties at home. Even those who disagree that immigration restrictions abridge the fundamental rights of immigrants should acknowledge the threat posed to the civil liberties of citizens and lawful residents by tough border enforcement. The rights to due process, protections against state surveillance, and even protection from slavery have been sacrificed on the altar of controlling the border.
If we want to fight the tidal wave of government assaults on our freedoms, rolling back the frontiers of state border enforcement must be a top priority, not just an afterthought.
Harrison Griffiths is a political commentator with Young Voices and a communications officer at the Institute of Economic Affairs, a free-market think tank in London. He has written for City A.M., The American Spectator, and the Foundation for Economic Education. He has also made broadcast appearances on GB News, Times Radio, and TalkTV.
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