In-country immigration enforcement operations are divisive, ineffective and often unlawful – they should be stopped.

Posted by Bella Sankey on 26 August 2016

Byron Hamburgers made headlines last month – for all the wrong reasons.

The chain set up fake meetings with its staff – including some who had worked for Byron for more than five years – to entrap them and trigger immediate Home Office detentions and removal from the UK.

The betrayal and shock felt by Byron’s employees, and subsequent public backlash, is indicative of the damage and division caused by aggressive immigration enforcement away from the border.

It doesn’t need to be like this. It is possible to administer immigration rules in a humane manner that respects human rights and avoids exacerbating community tensions.

But over the last decade we have moved far from this ideal – and towards speculative profiling and snatch squads which generally operate in the shadows, often outside the law.

Long before Brexit, Liberty, the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), the National Black Police Association and many others warned the Government’s ‘hostile environment’ strategy would prove toxic for minority groups and race relations.

The dramatic rise in racial abuse, assaults and criminal damage following the referendum campaign makes clear we can ill-afford its social costs.

Raids – ineffective, abusive and unlawful

In-country immigration enforcement is not the traditional British way. The Home Office acknowledges this, stating in its guidance that “allowing Immigration Officers to carry out arrests in the community is a significant and radical departure from previous practice, which is why the implementation of these powers is strictly controlled”.

Not an effective strategy

But this ‘radical departure from previous practice’ isn’t evidence-based (nor “strictly controlled”) – it is politically driven.

From 2010, as the Government repeatedly and cringingly missed its immigration target, it turned to high-visibility raids for positive press. As journalists have revealed, raids have increased 80% in London over the past five years – almost 11 a day between 2010-2015.

The now Prime Minister and her predecessor sometimes even joined raids themselves, so desperate were they to save face.

While Byron-type raids give the appearance of successful action against undocumented migrants, as a public policy strategy they are highly dubious.

For a start, their success rate is shockingly poor. Between 2009 and 2014 on average 68 per cent of inspections ended with no illegal workers being identified.

The Home Office does not keep records of the number of people affected by, interviewed or ‘examined’ during raids and street ops.

But, of the 1,025 people removed following employer raids in 2014, 4,437 were initially arrested – making the arrest to removal ratio 23 per cent.

The numbers of people removed as a result of employer raids are tiny compared to other methods, such as encouragement of voluntary return. In 2014, 1,025 were removed as a result of employer raids – compared with 26,307 voluntary departures.

Unlawfulness and abuse

These powers are also widely abused and misused.

The Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration has found that a staggering number of raids are unlawful or unjustified – in his review of the power to enter business premises without warrant 71 per cent of operations lacked the required legal justification or contained insufficient information to assess whether that justification had been met.

Additionally, there were widespread failures to comply with legislation and guidance in relation to “pursuit of individuals away from target premises, cautioning, questioning and use of handcuffs”.

This is not academic. These figures undermine the rule of – and respect for – the law and have serious practical consequences for the protection of rights.

From Joy Gardner to Jimmy Mubenga, history teaches that unnecessary and disproportionate coercive immigration officer contact with those subject to immigration control raises the spectre of fatal abuse.

Stereotyping and unfair targeting

The Inspector also reports that employer raids are frequently conducted on the basis of low-level allegations by members of the public – and information is sometimes several months old before it is acted on.

So called ‘intelligence’ can also be vague to the point of meaningless – for example fast food outlets targeted on the basis that over-stayers have previously been found at unrelated fast food outlets.

He concluded that poor record-keeping would make it “difficult for IE (immigration enforcement) to defend any challenges that particular businesses, sectors or individuals were being unfairly targeted”.

Little scrutiny

To date, enforcement raids have received little public scrutiny and debate.

Opposition to raids has been provided by community-led initiatives like the Anti Raids Network, which has resisted the strategy and provides legal advice about civil rights to affected communities in a range of different languages.

This murky area of Government activity urgently needs greater transparency and challenge.