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LONDON -- Ordering landlords to check prospective tenants' immigration status leads to racial discrimination and breaches human rights, Britain's High Court has ruled, in a judgment that deals a blow to migration-control measures championed by Prime Minister Theresa May.

The mandatory checks are one plank in what has become known as the government's "hostile environment" policy, which aims to force people in the country illegally to leave by blocking their access to jobs, bank accounts and free medical care, among other things.

The policy has been criticized as imposing heavy burdens on legal immigrants and British citizens who are not white but are obliged to prove their status repeatedly. It has brought particularly harsh consequences for the "Windrush generation" of migrants encouraged to move from the Caribbean after World War II to help with Britain's reconstruction, many of whom never had -- or previously needed -- the sort of documents demanded.

Landlords said the mandatory checks made them "unwilling border police" and discouraged them from renting to anyone whose migration status might not be straightforward.

The judgment does not strike down the 2014 legislation that imposed document checks on tenants in England. But it asks Parliament to reconsider how the law is applied and blocks plans to extend the checks to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

A report commissioned by the Residential Landlords Association -- which backed the legal challenge brought by an immigrant-rights group and decided by the High Court on Friday -- found that close to half of landlords were less likely to rent to someone without a British passport.

"The measures have a disproportionately discriminatory effect," Justice Martin Spencer said in his judgment. Even if the checks had been shown to be effective in controlling migration, he added, he "would have found that this was significantly outweighed by the discriminatory effect."

Evidence submitted to the court showed the government had failed to measure whether the checks resulted in discrimination, or even whether they helped detect and remove people who were in the country illegally.

According to the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, forced removals and voluntary departures from Britain have declined since 2013.

"The net has been cast too wide and the effect of the scheme has been to cause landlords to commit nationality and/or race discrimination against those who are perfectly entitled to rent, with the result that they are less able to find homes than (white) British citizens," the judge said, citing claims from the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, which took the case to court.

May, who was Britain's home secretary for six years before becoming prime minister in 2016, has been closely identified with moves to tighten the country's migration policies. She promised to create "a really hostile environment" for illegal immigration in a 2012 interview with The Daily Telegraph, although her government now prefers to speak of a "compliant environment."

Friday's judgment was "another nail in the coffin for the government's misguided, discriminatory and unworkable hostile environment policy," Lara ten Caten, a solicitor with Liberty, a group that campaigns for civil liberties and supported the court challenge, told the BBC.

"While effective immigration control is a legitimate aim for any government, the Home Office must stop outsourcing its discriminatory policies to third parties who are ill-equipped to enforce them but may be slapped with heavy fines and even end up in prison if they don't," she added.

A Section on 03/03/2019

Print Headline: British court finds landlord rule unfair

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