Illegal immigration 'is theft from taxpayers'
He was defending plans to introduce a text messaging scheme to warn visitors to the UK of the penalties of overstaying their visas as part of a new crackdown on "grossly unfair" illegal immigration.
The "get tough" policy has been branded unrealistic and inhumane by campaigners, who said it threatened to leave up to half a million people destitute, forcing many into crime or the black economy.
However, the Airdrie and Shotts MP said plans for a text messaging pilot scheme to remind immigrants about their visas were a "tiny" part of a new enforcement strategy designed to "block the benefits" of Britain to those in the country illegally.
He also attacked the Tories' opposition to plans to introduce ID cards for all foreigners coming into the country from 2008, saying it was crucial to the tracking of illegal immigrants.
Dr Reid said: "Illegal immigration harms the minimum wage, it is not fair, it undermines the rights of British workers, it steals taxpayers' money, by taking benefits, by taking services through the NHS or otherwise ... provided by the British people, British taxpayers for British people themselves.
"So it is grossly unfair, and we intend, year on year, to make it harder and harder to get benefits, or services, or work, if you are an illegal immigrant."
New measures include a "watch list" of illegal immigrants to alert government agencies if someone applies for services to which they are not entitled; workplace enforcement teams to track down bosses employing people who should not be in the country; and pilots in three NHS trusts to ensure migrants pay for care where required.
Immigration crime partnerships will be created between local authorities, police, HM Revenue and Customs and local agencies to detect those in the country illegally and block benefits.
Landlords could be fined up to 20,000 for housing illegal immigrants in overcrowded flats.
And new systems could be put in place to identify illegal immigrants fraudulently applying for driving licences.
Habib Rahman, chief executive of the Joint Council for Welfare of Immigrants chief executive, said: "Barring up to half a million irregular migrants from access to rights and services is not a realistic or humane response to irregular migration to this country.
"All the tough talk we are hearing from ministers does not mean there is any practical possibility of the Government detaining or deporting anything like this number of people in the near future.
"In the meantime, rendering them destitute will not encourage or enable them to return to countries riven by human rights abuses, conflict and poverty. It will force many on to the doorsteps of already stressed charities and churches, or into the arms of criminals facilitating forced labour."
Shadow home secretary David Davis
said: "John Reid is effectively giving up on trying to deport the hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants in this country, preferring instead to spam them with text messages."