Government plans to crack down on illegal immigration could lead to hardship and misery for families, the Bishop of Lichfield has warned.
The Church of England was also affected by immigration restrictions – with visiting bishops from overseas finding it harder to enter the country, he said.
Speaking in the House of Lords, the Bishop, the Rt Revd Jonathan Gledhill, said he was concerned that attempts to discourage immigration by making it harder to access services such as the NHS, or to claim benefits, might hit children.
He said: “It may well be appropriate to take particular measures to reduce the pull factor for those contemplating coming to the UK, but the problem remains of inadequate practical support for those, including families with children, who are caught in the asylum system but cannot be returned to another country.”
He also issued a warning about plans to allow judges to take the seriousness of a crime into account when deciding whether an offender should be deported. This is designed to make it easier for judges to ignore human rights legislation which might allow an offender to stay in the UK on the grounds that they have family ties here.
The Bishop said: “Further, in considering whether a foreign national offender should be removed from the country, it is important that judges retain their discretion to make judgments between people’s Article 8 rights in terms of family life, and the risk of harm that the person presents.”
Echoing warnings from some universities that immigration controls were making it harder to admit foreign students, he added: “Not everyone appreciates that many organisations, including our own church, are global in reach, and it is becoming more and more difficult to invite visiting bishops and professors to make their contribution to the unity that we all seek.”
Under proposals announced in the Queen’s Speech, a stricter regime to cut immigration in the UK see foreigners’ access to healthcare regulated and deportation accelerated.
A new Immigration Bill will make it easier to remove people from the UK by limiting rights to appeal and tightening the use of human rights law.
The reforms were unveiled as the issue of immigration becomes increasingly contentious, inflamed by the battle to deport radical cleric Abu Qatada and fears over a potential influx from Romania and Bulgaria at the end of the year.
Meanwhile, private landlords will be required to check the immigration status of their tenants and measures will be introduced to stop illegal immigrants getting a UK driving licence. But health professionals said they opposed any move to make them responsible for checking whether NHS patients are entitled to treatment.
Clare Gerada, Chairwoman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said: “GPs must not be a new ‘border agency’ in policing access to the NHS.
“While the health system must not be abused and we must bring an end to health tourism, it is important that we do not overestimate the problem and that GPs are not placed in the invidious position of being the new border agency.
“General practice must remain the main access to health care within the NHS. GPs have a duty of care to all people seeking healthcare, and should not be expected to police access to healthcare and turn people away when they are at their most vulnerable. It is important to protect individuals and public health.”
A poll showed public concern about immigration is at its highest since June 2010. The YouGov survey showed 57 per cent of people ranked immigration among the top three most important issues facing Britain, a rise of 11 per cent compared to last May. The economy was selected by 76 per cent.