In 2012 Theresa May announced the creation of the “hostile environment” for “illegal migrants.” This new policy framework has extended the powers of the Home Office to everyday life. Whilst immigration power has traditionally always been exercised at external borders, the multiplication of internal checkpoints has reached hospitals, jobs, homes, banks and any other service, public or otherwise, in which the State wants to extend its tentacles. By passing a raft of authoritarian measures, the State equips itself to create and criminalise new categories of social undesirables.
Mechanics of networked borders
The tendency towards the total policing of foreigners rests on the democratisation of immigration powers to public servants and other individuals in everyday life. The immigration officer becomes your landlord, teacher, neighbour, doctor, support worker.
There are different ways to ensure or enforce participation. Some have been imposed through legislation, such as fines and prison sentences against landlords and employers. The automation of information sharing between government departments has also allowed them to bypass confidentiality in GP surgeries and schools. The integration of a number of databases is also part of this strategy. Others, such as homelessness charities, have been feeding intelligence to Immigration Enforcement teams and taking them out on joint patrols to snatch foreign homeless people. Similarly, any visits to the custody suite will see foreigners questioned about their immigration status. Incentives take the form of payment-by-results and other profitable contracts.
The State’s approach to migrants normalises a climate of gatekeeping and convinces individuals they have a “duty” to collaborate in the policing of themselves and each other.
Beyond legalistic action and radical humanitarianism: solidarity as attack
Whilst supporting those affected by the hostile environment is important and pragmatically necessary, the legal system was made even more inaccessible through the imposition of economic barriers, terminating recourse to Legal Aid for immigration matters and skyrocketing fees.
The State’s agents and their collaborators don’t need warrants or authorisation to abuse their power, use intimidating tactics wearing their legal uniform or violently arrest people. Unlawful action by the State is common practice. All of this backed up by indefinite incarceration. And it’s almost entirely privatised, profiting the usual suspects (Mitie, Serco, G4S).
It would therefore be self-defeating to confine our response to legalistic action, losing individual agency by appealing to the institutions which create arbitrary categories of “illegals.” Solidarity has to move beyond even the most radical humanitarianism. Solidarity with migrants has to take the form of an attack on the institutions and individuals which control or manage borders in all their forms.
Breaking the chains of collaboration, creating no go zones
Rather than unifying forces into a mass movement operating at a discourse level and keeping hierarchical social relations intact, we must multiply disruptions in the every day and build a culture of anti-collaboration, self-defence and antagonism.
Anti-collaboration: Don’t Snitch!
Creating a culture against collaboration has to take many forms. As explained above, there are physical and digital forms of participation, some of which have been automated. The information generated by the democratisation of border enforcement must be disrupted. And just as much as the State is gathering data from more and more aspects of our lives, it also means that it is possible to multiply points of resistance. These can be actualised through individual or collective actions, depending on the task at hand. Refusing to input certain information into databases is a case in point, though if it was too easily visible, altered/wrong information could also be submitted, thus escaping the scrutiny of an overzealous manager. It would be even better if workers refused to collaborate collectively, refusing to become immigration officers in disguise.
The other side of developing an anti-collaboration culture names and shames those snitches who can be identified, especially those in position of responsibility in building the hostile environment, For example, those within the Department of Education or NHS Digital who secretly signed away the confidentiality of GP surgery and schools should be identified and confronted, both professionally and privately.
For those on the uncomfortable inside, the release of information in the public domain or anonymously to people who can act on that knowledge is becoming more and more necessary. In 2014, a Whitehall civil servant leaked information about impending immigration raids. Not only did this enable resistance to raids, it also highlighted the methods on which immigration enforcement relies, such as racial profiling.
Whilst knowing your rights will not destabilise the system as such, it is common practice for enforcement agencies and their subcontractors to abuse their power and intervene unlawfully.
Spreading information on Police and Immigration Powers can help people in feeling more confident to challenge authority and its agents. In London, the Anti-Raids Network holds weekly stalls in Haringey, Peckham and Deptford, connecting with local shopkeepers (targeted by raids) and residents. Antagonistic literature about police violence, prison abolition, other sites of struggles (e.g. Calais, Ventemiglia, Greece) and analytical reports have been welcomed by passers-by at the stall and re-affirms the network’s stance against any form of hierarchy, authority and discrimination.
The collective aspect of self-defence relies on the proximity of social relations in the neighbourhood so that immigration raids can be resisted successfully. In some areas, this coming together of people has happened quite spontaneously.
However if we are to challenge raids consistently, some ways need to be devised to ensure the alarm is raised when immigration officers appear and raids are about to happen. Local phone trees have been created and they work best where people are based in the neighbourhood. They should not rely on an army of activists coming to the rescue.
Fighting back: No Go Zones
Whilst anti-collaboration and self-defence are good ways of knowing your enemies and building new social relations, they tend to be reactive in terms of strategy. Without attacking the machinery of policing and immigration enforcement, our efforts will always be one step behind. So in the spirit of taking the initiative, it seems necessary to map out the many points of possible disruption with a view to sabotage or disrupt the chain of collaboration aimed at controlling, detaining and deporting foreigners.
In addition to sabotage, the possibility of creating “no go zones” reverses the dynamics of fear, giving Police and Immigration something to think about before entering certain areas. There are several examples to get inspiration from, whether in the suburbs of France or in the Zone to Defend (ZAD) where land is being re-appropriated from State dispossession.
There are enough guerilla tactics and new techonologies to create zones. One of the bigger challenges will require that we also find alternative ways of resolving conflict and disputes, not internalising police behaviour amongst ourselves or challenging it when being displayed.
The hostile environment builds on the previous normalisation of surveillance, collaboration, criminalisation and repression, and ramps it up further. The more we let the border and its violent racist logic contaminate the fabric of everyday life, the harder it will be to counter. Resistance can not only disrupt the mechanics of the border regime but also serve to promote a different set of social relations and rejection of authority in our neighborhoods. The time to act is now.
This article first appeared in the Summer issue of Freedom anarchist journal