2 Aug 2013

Home Office faces immigration tactics investigation

The British equality watchdog says it will investigate controversial Home Office tactics to tackle illegal immigration – including a “go home” poster campaign and police “stop and checks”.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission, a statutory body set up to enforce equality legislation, said on Friday that it was writing to the Home Office to inform it of plans to investigate the police “spot and checks” which took place in London this week.

It will also question the Home Office over the controversial advertising campaign telling illegal immigrants to “go home” or face arrest, which was displayed around London on the side of a van.

A spokesperson said: “The commission is writing today to the Home Office about these reported operations, confirming that it will be examining the powers used and the justification for them, in order to assess whether unlawful discrimination took place.

“The letter will also ask questions about the extent to which the Home Office complied with its public sector equality duty when planning the recent advertising campaign targeted at illegal migration.”

The move follows a major illegal immigration operation by enforcement officers on Thursday, in which 139 suspected immigration offenders were arrested across the country.

Intelligence-led operations to remove illegal immigrants are to be welcomed. Racial profiling is not. Chris Bryant, shadow immigration minister

Immigration Minister Mark Harper said: “(Yesterday’s) operations highlight the routine work we are carrying out every day to stamp out illegal working.

“We are sending a clear message to employers who choose to use illegal labour – we will find you and you will pay a heavy penalty.

“Illegal working undercuts legitimate businesses and is often linked to exploitative behaviour such as tax evasion and harmful working conditions.

“We will not allow the growth of a shadow economy for illegal migrants.”

‘Fundamental freedoms’

Concerns have been raised about the tactics being used by the Home Office which, it was said, show an attitude of “hostility towards non-white immigration”.

We make no apology for enforcing our immigration laws. Home Office

Barry Gardiner, the Labour MP for Brent North, has written to Home Secretary Theresa May following reports of the spot checks in London. The Independent reported that he demanded an investigation into the checks which he said violated “fundamental freedoms”.

“We do not yet live in a society where the police or any other officers of the law are entitled to detain people without reasonable justification and demand their papers,” Mr Gardiner wrote. “The actions of your department would however appear to be hastening us in that direction.”

‘Racial tensions’

Writing in the Independent, Dave Garratt, the chief executive of charity Refugee Action, warned that the operations could “incite racial tensions”.

“Over the last few weeks we’ve seen some very visible signs of the government’s ‘hostile environment’ crusade. There have been vans out on the streets with threatening slogans and, reportedly, non-white people being visibly stopped and searched,” he wrote.

“The Home Office is responsible for community cohesion. Yet we are increasingly seeing what appears to be hostility towards non-white immigration, which will do nothing but incite racial tensions and divisions within otherwise rich and diverse communities.”

Shadow immigration minister Chris Bryant said that assurances were needed from the Home Office that “racial profiling” was not being carried out by police officers.

“Theresa May said that someone from an ethnic background was seven times more likely to be stopped than a white person, and she said that this was wrong and we supported her,” he said.

“We must now have immediate reassurance from the home secretary that this is the case for immigration enforcement too. With enforcement operations now under the direct control of the Home Office she must establish straight away whether the rules preventing racial profiling are being enforced.

“Intelligence-led operations to remove illegal immigrants are to be welcomed. Racial profiling is not.”

‘No apology’

However, the Home Office has said it makes “no apology” for its actions.

“We make no apology for enforcing our immigration laws and our officers carry out hundreds of operations like this every year around London,” a spokesman said. “Where we find people who are in the UK illegally we will seek to remove them.

“Immigration enforcement officers conducted an operation at Walthamstow Central underground station and hub today, based on intelligence, where they questioned individuals to check if they had the right to be in the UK.

“They arrested 12 people who were in the country illegally. Two further people were arrested in follow-up house searches.”

Last week MPs warned the government that the official figures to count immigration were “not fit for purpose”, after it was revealed they were based on random interviews at airports and ports.