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Mon 16 September 2019
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New figures obtained by Byline Times and a recent report by the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration indicate that the Government is now attempting to reduce the scale of its controversial policy.

The Government’s determination to create a “hostile environment” for undocumented migrants seeped into every aspect of life for some of the most vulnerable people.

Access to healthcare, employment and housing was restricted and information was passed to the Home Office from schools and the police for immigration enforcement purposes. Even driving a car could lead to detention or deportation.

Now, new figures obtained by Byline Times suggest that the level of data-sharing between Government agencies may have been scaled back since the Windrush Scandal. 

In 2016, before Windrush hit the headlines, data was shared between the Driver Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) and the Home Office 54,874 times over a six-month period.

But, a Freedom of Information request has revealed that this fell to just 3,470 occasions between November 2018 and April this year.

The disregard of people’s lives has been shocking, hopefully they are doing the right thing and quietly abandoning the ideas that led to this.

Zrinka Bralo, Migrants Organise

A recent report from the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration on illegal working in the UK found that Windrush “fundamentally altered the environment” in which immigration enforcement operated. It also found that “proactive data-sharing, engagement with partners, and operations were running at a significantly reduced rate”.

The inspector was told by immigration staff that there is a “lack of ministerial appetite for further activity on the compliant environment”.

As with much immigration data-sharing, the practice of exchanging information between the DVLA and the Home Office has led to significant errors.

In 2015, more than 259 people had their licence revoked after being incorrectly identified as being in the country illegally.

The consequences were far more serious for some.

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Last year, Buzzfeed UK revealed that a man was arrested in his home in front of his young child after the DVLA wrongly informed the Home Office that he was in the country illegally. The Home Office failed to make its own checks and instead acted on the incorrect information.

Errors in other areas have led to people being wrongly refused healthcare, being told they do not have the right to rent a property, and even being locked up in immigration detention centres.

Zrinka Bralo, chief executive of the group Migrants Organise, cautiously welcomed today’s news.

“This sounds really good,” she told this newspaper. “I would like to think this is a sign that the Home Office is no longer prioritising it [the hostile environment]. We now need to see some proper leadership from Sajid Javid and for him to come out and admit the policy was a mistake and never worked as intended.”

The inspector was told by immigration staff that there is a “lack of ministerial appetite for further activity on the compliant environment”.

“They don’t need to keep up this tough look on immigration,” she added. “The disregard of people’s lives has been shocking, hopefully they are doing the right thing and quietly abandoning the ideas that led to this.”  

The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants has long campaigned to end the hostile environment and is repeating calls for a firewall to be constructed between Government departments.

“The Home Office always knew its database was inaccurate and the human cost of data-sharing,” Chai Patel, the organisation’s legal policy director, said.

“What is terrifying is that it was only the media scandal of Windrush that has slowed the pace of privacy violating and dangerous use of data against immigrants and ethnic minorities. We now know we need to create a complete firewall between immigration enforcement and all other Government departments.”

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