MT comment: The “Go Home” van campaign to intimidate undocumented migrants is a example how low some governments will stoop to raise their standings in the polls. We all know that Tory Prime Minister David Cameron’s government feels threatened by the anti-immigration Ukip and why he must show a get-tough line on immigration. One of the surprsing matters about the “Go Home” campaign is that we don’t know how many undocumented migrants there are in the UK. To add salt to the pain of the Tories, Nigel Farange of the Ukip cricitized the campaign as a failure and deeply distrubring.
By Juan Camilo
Following the ‘Go Home’ van story the general public has become aware and begun scrutinising immigration enforcement operations in public places, which have been around for some time now. This is good, especially given the the fact that information from the Home Office is difficult to obtain. Now we are calling for witness accounts to learn more about how exactly they are taking place.
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The polemic around the billboard vans carrying the message ‘Go Home or Face Arrest’ has sparked some long overdue interest in the way the Home Office carries out its enforcement actions. Over the last few days a number of Twitter users have posted real-time reports of immigration raids together with accounts and pictures of how these operations take place.
Even though they may be keen to show the results of enforcement activity in the form of total numbers of people detained and removed, the Home Office will not like to have a spotlight on how operations happen on the ground. To date there has been hardly any public attention, scrutiny or indeed accountability on the way the Home Office carries out immigration raids.
Most people will not encounter such an operation (they often take place early in the morning or in areas with a large migrant population) and if they do they might not pause to reflect about what is happening and how. For many it may seem like a minor inconvenience on the way to work.
How should immigration operations be carried out?
Immigration enforcement is supposed to be intelligence led, operations targeting individuals who are known immigration offenders. The Home Office has given a commitment to Parliament not to carry out speculative (‘fishing’) operations and Home Office operational guidance is clear that ‘the detention of persons who are not immigration offenders must be avoided’. Immigration officers should not stop and question people randomly in public places.
Operational guidance specifically warns immigration officers to be careful not to stop people on the basis of racial profiling, that is, stopping someone based on their appearance. In order to question somebody an immigration officer must have ‘reasonable suspicion’ that the individual is an immigration offender. What constitutes ‘reasonable suspicion’ is apparently not clearly defined in law, so officers need to be able to justify why they were suspicious. All this makes it very difficult for immigration enforcement actions to be carried out in public places.
This is a good thing. Most people feel uncomfortable at the idea of having the authorities plucking people out in public places and asking them to show proof of ID and immigration status. But there are ways used by the Home Office to get around these difficulties. The most common is taking part in ‘joint operations’. And, as many have found out recently, the way checks take place suggests that random targeting and racial profiling do, in effect, play a role in these operations.
How do joint operations work in practice?
Joint operations are operations where another enforcement agency (not the Home Office) is the lead but where immigration officers tag along because, in theory, there is intelligence to suggest immigration offenders may be encountered. The proportion of immigration officers to those of other agencies, and the way they proceed, suggests that catching irregular migrants is often one of the main aims.
Fare evasion and licensing operations are common types of joint operations. In joint operations officers from the lead agency are first in contact with members of the public. If in the course of their questioning they form a reasonable suspicion the individual is an immigration offender they can then refer them to the immigration officer for questioning on a ‘consensual’ basis.
Operational guidance states that ‘at the point of referral, the Immigration Officer must ask the individual concerned whether he is prepared to answer a few questions. This questioning can take place only on a consensual basis (see section 31.19.4 of the Home Office operational guidance on enforcement).
The operations that have been referenced in the last few days on Twitter in transport hubs in Slough, Kensal Green, Stratfordand Walthamstow, and an account of an older operation in Elephant and Castle, were likely joint operations where the lead agency was the British Transport Police (BTP). It is difficult to establish however the facts at this point in time and it could be possible that Kensal Green and Walthamstow weren’t joint operations. If they weren’t, the basis on which to stop people would be even shakier and fall squarely on the immigration officers.
In joint operations led by BTP, passengers are asked by a BTP officer to show that they have a valid ticket. It is the BTP officer who then refers the suspect to the immigration officer for further questioning. Twitter users have commented that immigration officers have been heavy handed, that most of the people stopped were black or asian and that BTP and immigration officers seemed to be working together. These are all very grave suggestions. If black and asian passengers are being disproportionately stopped it would indicate racial profiling.
These are supposed to be fare evasion operations, not immigration enforcement operations. Looking foreign should not play any role whatsoever in who BTP officers stop. If immigration officers are working hand in hand with BTP officers again it raises serious questions. Are immigration officers suggesting to BTP officers who they should stop?
Operating on the principle of ‘reasonable suspicion’ applies not only to immigration officers but also to officers of the lead agency. BTP officers should only refer people to an immigration officer if they have ‘reasonable suspicion’ it is an immigration offender. Are officers from lead agencies being trained on what constitutes ‘reasonable suspicion’ and are they recording what gives rise to this suspicion? If they are not, they are just providing cover for immigration officers.
Last year after a police-led licensing operation in which people were pulled out of a queue outside a venue holding a concert attended mostly by South Americans I sent an FOI request to the UK Border Agency enquiring on what basis they had questioned people at the queue. The response was that they questioned anybody that had been referred by police officers. One of the people who was questioned that evening challenged the Met Police and the UKBA about their questioning. The Home Office recently settled the claim.
Asking questions is the way forward
From the accounts on twitter of recent operations it seems like officers have not been following their own operational guidance and that they may have been overstepping their powers. People who have been stopped and asked to prove their ID and immigration status (even those who have not been detained) could challenge the legality of these actions. In the past, it has been difficult to challenge the legality of these operations because many people weren’t aware of the procedures immigration officers need to follow. Furthermore, accountability has been an issue in the past. Immigration officers do not have the same level of oversight as Police Officers and the UKBA had a track record of not taking complaints seriously, in many cases not even responding to them.
And this is why the Home Office may not be enjoying the attention it is getting right now. For now there is a wider number of people willing to scrutinise their actions, taking pictures, asking questions. Journalists, MPs and lawyers are also getting involved and their questions are more difficult to brush aside than citizen’s complaints.
If you have been stopped and questioned in a public place by an immigration officer and would like to discuss whether this could lead to a legal challenge or if you have witnessed an immigration enforcement operation and would be willing to share what you saw, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
A lot of the discussion on the raids on Twitter has been using the hashtag #gohome and RAMFEL has been posting updates on many of the operations on their account @RAMFELCharity
Read original blog entry here.
This piece was reprinted by Migrant Tales with permission.