In July 2013, the UK Home Office launched a series of high-profile interventions aimed at directing public attention to an increasing ‘hard line’ from the government in controlling ‘illegal immigration’. This project has been set up to study the operation, impacts and implications of two elements of this: an advertising campaign which began in selected London boroughs calling on migrants with insecure legal status to ‘go home’; and a series of high-profile immigration checks and raids in public spaces in super-diverse areas, particularly in London. The ‘go home’ advertising in public spaces has, since the instigation of this urgent bid, been subject to successful legal challenge for failing to consider its impact on ‘good relations’ in line with the Equality Act 2010. However, similar publicity has been used by the Home Office inside immigration centres in Glasgow and Hounslow. These developments demonstrate the fast-moving nature of this subject of study and the need for real-time research to capture data and for analysis now, and create an archive for future research. The project is designed to respond to new developments in the migration debate in the UK that occur as the research takes place between 2013 and June 2015.
Researching and informing debates
Summer 2013’s wave of interventions was part of wider structural change to the immigration service and policies restricting non-EU citizens’ entry to the UK, and their rights once present. They have drawn public attention and campaigns in an acute way which needs urgent attention, particularly during debates over the Immigration Bill being debated in Parliament in 2013-4. Debate on migration and borders will continue with the Scottish Independence Referendum in September 2014, and the general election in May 2015. We want to understand the impacts of such policies and public debate on: migrants (both ‘legal’ and ‘illegal’); racially minoritised British citizens if subject to increased harassment; public opinion about migration; community cohesion and good community relations; and political mobilisations.
Understanding and informing policy-making processes
Immigration is an issue where economists have been influential on British government policy. However, there is a supposed mismatch between their views and those of the general public. This raises questions about the use of evidence and argument in public policy decision-making. Policy makers and organisations working with migrants, against racial harassment, and on promoting peaceful communities need research which analyses the effects of these policies.
Researching and engaging with the role of social media in debate, policy and activism
The Home Office initially promoted these campaigns through both mainstream and social media (particularly their #immigrationoffenders hashtag on Twitter). Similar means have been used by those protesting against the interventions (notably through #racistvan and #gohome hashtags on Twitter). The combination of online and print media campaigns, and in-person interactions have been significant in both the original interventions and campaigns against them. For example, advice on migration rights has been circulated online then distributed in person, disruptions of immigration checks have been organised online and/or filmed for circulation through social media. These interactions are an important element of the situation we are studying, by engaging both with policy makers planning such campaigns and with activists mobilising to support migrants and good relations.
Working with migrant and non-migrant organisations
This research has been designed in collaboration with civil society organisations which have been clear about their needs for robust social scientific evidence that will help them and others to effectively foster good relations. The research design is based on needs identified by these groups and will also provide insights into wider questions of how public policy decisions are made and interact with public debate and social science.
Robust social science research
This project is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, the UK’s leading research and training agency addressing economic and social concerns. It is one of the first project’s to be funded under a new scheme, the ESRC Pilot Urgency Grants Mechanism, which enables social scientists to conduct research which responds quickly to urgent or unforeseen events. Our proposal was successful because it met the high standards of excellence required by the Research Council, in terms of methodology, planning, and the intellectual and social impacts the research is expected to have. The team of eight investigators have between us a wealth of experience and expertise in relevant fields, which we bring together with close working with local community organisations and national civil society partners who are also shaping the research.
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