THERE HAS been extensive media coverage in recent weeks over Immigration Officers carrying out operations outside major London train stations such as Stratford whereby Immigration Officers position themselves outside the entrance and exit doors of a station to question members of the public in what appears to be a random process based on profiling.
Of course, the Home Office and the Immigration minister maintain that these operations are based on specific and credible ‘intelligence’ rather than an opportunistic endeavour to catch and detain those unlawfully present in the UK.
Several arrests have been made as a result of these operations at London train stations. But these are not new. The Newham Monitoring Project (NMP) has been monitoring stop and search operations at tube stations across east London for the last 10 years or so and the results are revealing. The monitoring information from the NMP 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’.
The difference with these recent stop and search operations is that the immigration authorities (the now defunct ‘UK Border Agency’ name is still used on the uniforms of officers) are no longer using ticket checks as a pretext to the nitty-gritty immigration questions which tends to be the main purpose of the exercise.
Observers at these most recent operations have expressed the overwhelming disparity amongst members of the public who have been stopped and who are of Black or Asian racial appearance as against those of White appearance. In some instances, observers have reported that Black or Asian individuals have been exclusively stopped and questioned which ignores the possibility (just as likely as any other) that a White person from the USA, Russia, New Zealand, Serbia, Ukraine, Australia, South Africa, Argentina and Albania (amongst many others) could also be an immigration offender who has overstayed his/her visa.
As such, the immigration authorities have been accused of racial profiling. Many social scientists, policy advisers and political think-tanks have commented on the impact of social cohesion that such an approach, if indeed undertaken, may have in terms of encouraging and fomenting suspicion towards anybody of a certain colour.
Racial profiling aside, the legality of these operations are questionable under mainstream principles. Chapter 21 of the UKBA’s Operational Enforcement Manual (Enforcement Guidance) provides the following at paragraph 31;
31. Enforcement visits
All enforcement visits constitute immigration work of the most sensitive kind. An undertaking has been given to Parliament that IOs will not carry out speculative immigration visits, (‘fishing’ expeditions). It is essential that before any enforcement visit is made, the name of the possible offender is known (but see chapter 31.8 for visits to places of employment) and all checks have been made (see chapter 31.3). In particular the detention of persons who are not immigration offenders must be avoided.
Enforcement operations cannot be ‘speculative’ and cannot amount to ‘fishing expeditions’. This applies anywhere…on a bus, in a crowded shopping mall, at a train station or a sporting event. If waiting outside a busy train station and whimsically stopping individuals for questioning does not amount to a ‘fishing’ expedition (one which uses a large net at that), then it is difficult to envisage anything that would amount to a ‘fishing’ expedition.
The UKBA maintains that these operations were undertaken pursuant to ‘intelligence’ but it is immensely difficult to conceive, in abstract terms and anything short of that which one would expect in the most totalitarian of states, the existence of intelligence material which would indentify several hundred people from all walks of life using a particular train station at a particular time.
In the event that a member of the public is, at some point, stopped for questioning by an officer, here are a few tips for you to bear in mind;
1. Immigration checks cannot be speculative and a person cannot be stopped solely on the basis of race or because he/she looks ‘foreign’.
- You do not have to answer any questions or show any identification when stopped.
- You can simply walk away. Yes. You are allowed to politely decline any ‘consensual’ questioning and walk away.
Moreover, Immigration Officers must;
– Identify themselves & show a warrant card.
– They must explain the reason for the questioning.
– They must advise you that you are not obliged to answer any questions.
– They must advise you that you are not under arrest and that you are free to leave at any time.
(Source: Paragraph 31.19.5 of Chapter 31 of the Enforcement Guidance)
The information in this newsletter is believed to be correct at the date of publication but it is of necessity of a brief and general nature and should not be relied upon as a substitute for specific legal or professional advice.
For further information please contact Douglass Simon Solicitors at 020 8560 3888 (Brentford office) or 020 7373 4429 (Earls Court office) or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. For other articles please visit our website at www.douglass-simon.com.
(by Lira Simon Cabatbat of Douglass Simon Solicitors)