Reid Targets Illegal Immigrants

A new clampdown is aimed at preventing “foreigners” coming to the UK illegally and “stealing our benefits” and NHS services, the home secretary has said. John Reid told the BBC he wanted to make life “uncomfortable and constrained” for illegal immigrants.

{mosimage}He unveiled plans for a pan-government effort to ensure that illegal migrants cannot get housing, healthcare or work. But the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants has warned Mr Reid against “hyping up public emotions”.

The Home Office plans include a proposal to run a pilot scheme to send text messages reminding people not to overstay their immigration visas.

This has been criticised by opposition parties, but Mr Reid dismissed it as a minor measure, stressing instead the core of the package was to beef up the powers of immigration officers to police the borders, as well as compulsory ID cards for foreign nationals seeking to settle in the UK.

Mr Reid told BBC Breakfast: “It is unfair that foreigners come to this country illegitimately and steal our benefits, steal our services like the NHS and undermine the minimum wage by working. Year on year, we are going to make it even more difficult for them to do that.”

Measures being introduced include a “watch list” of illegal migrants to alert government agencies if someone applies for services to which they are not entitled. Workplace enforcement teams will also attempt to track down companies employing people who should not be in the country. There will also be pilot schemes in three NHS trusts using data from the Immigration and Nationality Directorate to ensure migrants pay for care where required to do so.

Mr Reid said most people who came to the UK wanted to comply fully with immigration laws but those who did not should not enjoy the same benefits and privileges. “That’s why the time is now right to tackle the root cause of the problem – exploitation. We have to tackle not only the illegal trafficking but also the illegal jobs at the end of the journey. This new approach will make life in this country ever more uncomfortable and constrained for those who come here illegally,” the home secretary said.

The policy has been welcomed by the Association of Chief Police Officers. Spokesman Grahame Maxwell said it was “a really positive step forward for the Home Office, police and other agencies”.

Department for Work and Pensions minister Jim Murphy said he welcomed forging closer links with immigration services to make the strategy work. “The DWP is committed to doing all it could to ensure that people who live, work or claim benefits in Britain do so legally,” he said.

Meanwhile, further education minister Bill Rammell said the Department for Education was “on the case” of colleges which act as a front for foreign nationals to enter the country and stay as students.

However, Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants chief executive Habib Rahman said: “Barring up to half a million irregular migrants in the UK from access to rights and services is not a realistic or humane response.” He added: “We want a more balanced approach, not just hyping up public emotions on some very emotive subjects.” He called for action on people trafficking rather than a crackdown on the “victims” of it and an amnesty on illegal workers.

Shadow home secretary David Davis accused John Reid of giving up on trying to deport hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants, preferring to “spam them with text messages”.

Shadow immigration minister Damian Green said: “The idea that you are texting someone, saying that we are on your trail is just a joke. Do they have the mobile numbers of more than half a million illegal immigrants? No of course they don’t.” He added: “This is a man floundering around, desperate for something that will grab him a tabloid headline rather than somebody getting to grips with the real problem.”

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Nick Clegg said: “If tough rhetoric and gimmicks were enough to sort out our immigration system, we would have the best in the world.”