Social media sites have erupted in anger at the use of heavily policed ‘checks’ carried out by immigration officials at train, tube and bus stations, workplaces, as well as other public areas, across London and the UK this week.
UKBA officials and the police have been condemned for deliberately picking out non-white people for questioning at public transport hubs, a practice which breaches the law, and official Home Office policy, which both make it clear that immigration officials must not stop an individual based upon their race.
Shock and anger have been <a href=”[View the story “Reasonable suspicion?” on Storify]”>typical reactions on twitter and other social media sites. One said “Cops and UKBA now at Stratford station demanding ID from those who aren’t white. When did the UK become South Africa?”
Some people have taken their anger to the streets – the Southall Black Sisters barracked UKBA officials, accusing them of harassing their communities.
These raids have been highly visible with heavy policing. One witness to an immigration check at Walthamstow described seeing numerous police teams at around station exits at bus stops, with back-up sitting in police vans around the area.
But these are not new. Newham Monitoring Project has been monitoring stop and search operations at tube stations across east London over the past 10 years. Their monitoring shows that since 2004 it has become routine to witness joint operations between the Metropolitan Police, British Transport police and immigration officers, thinly disguised as ticket checks or some other form of law enforcement, but primarily targeting ‘illegal immigrants’, for example a check at Stratford station a few years ago shown here.
In November last year, the Met Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley and the Immigration Minister Mark Harper proudly launched Operation Nexus, a joint operation between the Met and UKBA, part of which involved UKBA officers being posted to 21 Met police custody suites in London. Mobile fingerprinting is also increasingly being used to screen groups of people in order to uncover potential immigration offences.
At immigration stops, abuses of the law are commonplace, as these operations seldom respect individual rights. The current raids come shortly after a woman of Croatian descent has settled a claim against the Home Office for unlawfully detaining her for questioning during a similar operation by Home Office and UKBA officials, this time under the guise of enforcing licensing restrictions.
The woman was stopped and surrounded in South London by Metropolitan police officers, then referred to a Home Office immigration officer for an immigration check which confirmed her to be British. The claimant claimed that the only explanation for her prolonged stop was that she did not have a British accent, which amounted to discrimination and harassment.
In a press statement issued by her lawyers, Bhatt Murphy, she said that,
“I have serious concerns that the Metropolitan police and Home Office abuse their powers by regularly stopping and questioning individuals who have committed no crime other than appearing ‘foreign’. I hope that this small victory on my part will encourage others to refuse to accept similar treatment’.
The anti-raids network have published useful advice on the law relating to immigration checks, and how to deal with them. UKBA officials must act only where they have ‘reasonable suspicion’ an individual has committed immigration offences, and cannot lawfully conduct a fishing expedition based on racial profiling. There is also no power for immigration officials to compel people to answer questions – people stopped and questioned can exercise their lawful right to refuse to consent to questioning and to provide personal details. The Anti-raids network also provide training/workshops on how to deal with immigration checks, as well as taking street action against them.
Anyone who is unlawfully detained in immigration check is advised to take legal advice from a trusted civil actions against the police solicitor (see our Solicitors list) or a support organisation such as Newham Monitoring Project who provide support to communities in East London. Migrant rights have also issued a call for people targeted or questioned in immigration raids to get in touch with them.