The unspoken rationale underpinning British immigration policy has long been race, news reports of a leaked Home Office document said.

In May 2022, the Guardian reported how a leaked paper commissioned in the wake of the Windrush scandal found legislation was designed to reduce the UK’s non-white population. It concluded that between 1950 and 1981, “every single piece of immigration or citizenship legislation was designed at least in part to reduce the number of people with black or brown skin who were permitted to live and work in the UK”.

The report confirmed what Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID) – a charity which challenges immigration detention in the UK - has long witnessed. 

“The UK’s immigration system is built upon xenophobia and racism which controls the movement of people of colour through repressive legislation,” Annie Campbell Viswanathan, a human rights lawyer and director at BID, said.

“This is something that is yet to be addressed by the immigration sector which tends to treat the symptoms rather than the cause.”

BID receives around 5000 calls a year from those who are in or facing detention across the UK, all seeking legal advice, information or representation. Last year at least 600 people who had received assistance, including representation, from BID were released from detention.

“We bear witness to the harm caused by immigration detention and deportation. We campaign for the end of immigration detention and the legislation which turns long term UK residents who have committed offences into detainable and deportable people, destroying families and damaging communities, and wider society,” Annie said.  


“It doesn’t matter how long you’ve lived here, you could have been born in the UK and still face deportation, and people frequently are.

"I’m representing a client who grew up in care in the UK and is being deported.  The British state was his parent and having thoroughly failed this poor young man they are seeking to deport and abandon him.  Criminality as a result of failing care system is a public health issue, not a criminal justice issue, and many of the issues Black children face are due to over policing. Instead of getting the help they need, they are given more and more punishment.”

BID is calling for a Lammy-style independent review into treatment of racially minoritised people in the immigration system which should consider the origins and practice of immigration law.

BID is also seeking to transfer power within its organisation to people who have experience of being on the receiving end of repressive immigration legislation by working to ensure its next CEO has such lived experience. The team plans to set up an internship to train legal representatives to work for the organisation.

“We’re committed to whole organisational change from board level down to take us from the benevolent charity model to a migrant justice/power model,” Annie said.

The sector greatly needs to prioritise this model and to give power to experts by experience, Annie said, recognising BID’s reliance on the volunteered time of legal professionals means the work can be more open to people able to afford to volunteer their time.

One of their current volunteers has all of their legal qualifications, Annie said, and is completing their Bar Vocational Course while working as a labourer, however for the last 17 years they have had no immigration status and have faced the ongoing threat of deportation.  “We need to create the environment where people who are experts by experience can come in, flourish, and effect the transformation,” Annie said.

-  BID aims to challenge immigration detention in the UK through the provision of legal advice and representation alongside research, policy advocacy and strategic litigation to secure change in detention policy and practice.  JRCT made a core 60-month grant to BID. The funding was made under JRCT’s Rights and Justice programme which support those who uphold equality and human rights in support of racial and religious minorities.

The image above is a still from BID's film I Need Air which documents Omar's experience of detention.