A Barclays spokesperson said the bank was simply complying with the Immigration Act 2016. Photograph: Graham Turner for the Guardian

UK banks to check 70m bank accounts in search for illegal immigrants

Article in The Guardian
25 September, 2017

Again, the idea that banks should participate in the repression of undocumented migration is the exact contrary of what needs to be done. And what a waste of time, energy and money!

Such checks will drive most undocumented migrants further underground, into more exploitation at the hands of employers, recruiters and landlords. Repressing migrants workers in precarious situations actually disempowers them from the ability to fight exploitation, confines them to the margins of society and renders them voiceless, thus further empowering the exploiters. This is indeed subsidising further the underground rings that feed off the fear induced by the precariousness built around undocumented migrants.

What we urgently need are “firewalls” between immigration enforcement and public and private services, in order to empower undocumented migrant workers to resort to the authorities – without fear of detection, detention and deportation – in order to fight exploitation. Cooperation of undocumented migrants with public prosecutors in charge of fighting labour exploitation and human trafficking would be much more productive. One should therefore aim for bringing most undocumented migrants unto a path towards regularisation and not attach to their condition the opprobrium of that of dangerous criminals, which they are not.

If one wants to sustainably reduce undocumented migration, one has to confront the real issue: the millions of employers worldwide who attract undocumented migrants and exploit them through cut-rate wages and often dangerous working conditions must be brought to account. For that, we need a social conversation on how to subsidise the industries which employ large numbers of undocumented migrants, because they cannot be delocalised and are profitable only because labour costs are thus kept artificially low: agriculture, care, construction, extraction, fisheries, hospitality…

Since consumers, farmers, landlords, mayors, tax authorities all benefit from the lower costs of goods thus produced, and since disempowered migrants rarely protest, contest, mobilise, unionise or go to court to defend their rights – for fear of deportation –, there is little incentive for politicians to do anything to either repress exploitative employers or protect undocumented migrants. This is the main obstacle to a saner conception of labour mobility.

Legalising, regulating and taxing such labour situations – i.e. progressively establishing a level-playing field in which the vast majority of jobs would be in the formal economy, even in those soft economic sectors – would be much more efficient than repressing them. If undocumented migrants were not attracted by the sirens of exploitative jobs and were not able to survive in the margins of our societies because of underground labour markets, they would move on. Empowering them to do precisely that – through reducing considerably underground labour markets and allowing all workers to compete on their skills, not exploitative wages – is the only efficient way forward.

This is not a very popular position with nationalist populist politicians and governments, intent as they are to mobilise their base rather than implement a long-term strategic vision which would bank on and celebrate the increasing mobility and diversity of our societies.

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