Why are Britain’s own citizens proving so interesting to Immigration Enforcement officials?
Words: Adam Cantwell-Corn
Which nationalities are stopped and questioned the most on Bristol’s streets by the Immigration Enforcement authorities? Would you be surprised to learn that ‘British’ is one of the top three?
Five years’ worth of information collected and analysed by the Cable shows that, after Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, British citizens are the national group most ‘encountered’ by UK Immigration Enforcement. The official description of these street ‘encounters’ is: “when an immigration officer asks a person about their immigration status in the United Kingdom”.
If officials were taking a purely scattergun approach to these duties, you’d expect British nationals to be encountered in high numbers – just because there are more of them. Yet Home Office policy and court rulings state that officers “need to have information in [their] possession which suggests that the person may be of immigration interest” before making their approach.
The fact that British nationals are so often stopped begs the question as to whether operations are in fact as ‘intelligence led’ as claimed. Much as with the police’s widely discredited stop-and-search practices, the data raises concerns that the authorities may be profiling individuals as suspected immigration offenders on the basis of race or ethnicity.
When we contact the Home Office, a spokesperson tells the Cable that the available data only shows nationality, not ethnicity or race, and therefore doesn’t provide evidence of racial profiling. A fair point, but what can account for such a high proportion of British nationals being targeted by officers? How can an officer have the required ‘information in his possession’ that suggests a British national is an immigration offender?
The Home Office spokesperson helpfully explains that individuals in the vicinity of an immigration enforcement operation may be “checked as matter of course”. When challenged that ‘as a matter of course’ sounds rather like an indiscriminate blanket approach, the spokesperson assures us that no, operations are “intelligence led”. The spokesperson declines to specify what counts as ‘intelligence’.