A fifth of people targeted in immigration spot checks turned out to be British
Home Office accused of racial profiling as figures reveal British citizens are more likely to be questioned than any other nationality
Immigration officials have been accused of profiling ethnic minorities after figures revealed thousands of British citizens were questioned on suspicion of immigration offences in the last five years.
A total of 19,061 Brits were quizzed since 2012, despite being unable to commit immigration crimes such as overstaying a visa or entering the country illegally, according to data obtained by the Bristol Cable and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
In fact, one in five people involved in spot checks by immigration officials turned out to be British, while in some places, such as Sheffield, Glasgow and Leeds, it was one in three.
The figures suggest weaknesses in the Home Office’s “intelligence-led” street operations.
People affected by raids have accused officers of profiling ethnic minorities.
The Overtake spoke to one Brit who manages an Indian restaurant in Yorkshire which was raided in August, who said immigration officials questioned Asian staff more than white staff.
“We have a mix of people and cultures, white British staff, Asian staff who were born here and grew up here, and people who were born in other countries but have lived here a long time,” he said.
“If people looked Asian they were questioned more than the white people. That was definitely the case, without a doubt. Even if they had local accents. Most of our staff are Asian but were born in the town and have English accents. We only have a couple of staff who speak broken English.”
He said the officers “weren’t rude at all” and they apologised for the inconvenience.
It is against the law for any immigration officer (IO) to racially discriminate, under the Equality Act 2010.
Home Office guidance for enforcement visits states: “Race can never be the basis of the IOs ‘reasonable suspicion’ that someone has committed an immigration offence.”
In addition, immigration officials are not allowed to carry out speculative visits, or “fishing expeditions” and need to know the name of any suspects in order to carry out a raid. Intelligence is often based on tip-offs from members of the public.
The guidance also states: “Stopping or requesting identification from all individuals in a particular location is not consistent with stopping only those people in relation to whom the IO has a reasonable suspicion that they may be an immigration offender.”
The manager said the raid had a profound effect on the business.
“They came on a Friday night at a busy time and stayed over an hour.”
He said that all the staff had to stop what they were doing in order to answer questions and some staff were subjected to much longer interviews than others.
“It caused us a lot of inconvenience and we still had to pay staff for the time, even though we were losing money. There were a few customers here and more were arriving while the immigration officers were here.
“We have to abide by food hygiene standards so we wasted lots of food. Whole pans of gravy had to go because in the mayhem, nobody had remembered to turn the slow cookers on.
“I assume they came when they did because Friday or Saturdays are the busiest days. It was bad timing because we had two new staff and they were not experienced, so it really set us back on that night.”
While the night of the raid was challenging, the effects have been more substantial as rumours began to spread.
“We’re down about £1,000 a week because it’s affected our reputation. Some people think we stopped trading. Often customers say, ‘oh you’re open, we thought you’d closed down because of the raid’.
“We have some young staff who are sixth formers and they do four hours on Friday and Saturday nights — we had a new staff member, a friend of one of our staff, say she didn’t want to come and work for us anymore, and this was after she’d agreed her hours. It’s had a very bad effect on us.”
The Equality and Human Rights Commission said it would be “deeply worrying” if immigration officials and the Home Office were not following the law and their own guidance regarding immigration spot checks.
“There must be reasonable evidence for carrying out inspections. If British people are recorded as being encountered by immigration enforcement, it doesn’t necessarily mean they were victims of racial profiling. We would need more information to determine that.”
Six MPs, including Hilary Benn and Stella Creasy, called for answers from the Home Office. “These figures are extraordinary. If the operations really are “intelligence-led”, then why are so many British citizens wrongly being stopped?” Benn said.
Responding to the figures, the Home Office said: “Immigration enforcement officers are empowered to carry out an in-country examination of a person to establish their immigration status where they reasonably suspect that the person is in breach of immigration law.
“British citizens may be arrested for connected criminal offences arising from an immigration enforcement encounter. British citizens are not arrested with a view to removal.”
Frances Webber, former barrister and vice-chair of the Institute of Race relations said: “It is not enough for the Home Office simply to deny that racial profiling takes place, given the evidence of heavy-handed stops of BAME Britons at tube stations during Theresa May’s Operation Valken. The Home Office needs to demonstrate that its practice has changed. If its operations are intelligence-led, as it says, it needs to question the value of the intelligence it receives.”
By Robyn Vinter and Ben Sledge