Immigration raids on people’s workplaces are one of the UK government’s main terror tactics against migrants. But in the last few years, they have also become one of the main battlegrounds where people are fighting back against the “hostile environment”.
Corporate Watch has investigated how the raids are carried out, including the key role played by employers and other informants. Chapter Six of our book on the UK Border Regime presents a detailed overview. Now a new report from the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration (ICIBI) gives a further glimpse of how the system works.
In response to recent criticism of the raids, the Home Office has blustered that it is less reliant on obvious racial targeting, and that its actions have become more “intelligence led”. But the ICIBI report shows that little has actually changed. The standard tactic remains crashing into Indian or Chinese restaurants and rounding up as many people as possible.
What has changed, though, is the level of resistance. The most interesting part of the Inspector’s report details how, since 2015, the squads have met increasing “incidents of disruption”. The report discusses organising by one group involved in this, the Anti Raids Network. But this resistance goes beyond any one group or network. It has spread informally and virally. And it has had a very real impact, denting raid squads’ confidence and forcing them onto the retreat.
RAIDS SNAPSHOT 2018: MUCH THE SAME, OFFICERS EVEN MORE MISERABLE
We’ll look at those points more closely in a moment. First, though, a few basic updates on the raids themselves.
Officially, there are just under 7,000 workplace raids a year. That’s in line with previous figures we looked at in our book The UK Border Regime. According to the Inspector’s report, Immigration Compliance and Enforcement (ICE) squads carried out 23,413 “illegal working” “deployments” in just under three and a half years, from April 2015 to August 2018.i
The raiders “encountered 83,855 individuals and made 14,762 arrests” (“encountered” presumably means stopping and questioning). So on an average raid, they question about four people. But most are let go, and they don’t make arrests on every raid.
Most raids are still supposedly based on tip-offs from “members of the public”. Over half are still on “restaurants and fast food outlets, and concentrated on a few nationalities”. Nearly two thirds, 63%, of all people arrested were from just four nationalities: Bangladeshis, Indians, Pakistanis, and Chinese.
This is pretty much the same picture as in earlier reports – see here for a more in depth look. In the last report, in 2015, the Inspector noted managers were claiming to be moving away from hitting “easy targets” in high street takeaways, instead developing new kinds of intelligence and operations. In the 2015 report, 85% of all arrests were from the four nationalities listed above, so you might say there has been some “progress”. But not a lot.
Something else that hasn’t changed: morale is seriously low. The report says that, within the Home Office itself, different departments barely communicate. For example, ICE officers and the Intelligence teams that are supposed to guide them “were critical of one another”. The planned “single intelligence platform” does not seem to be working.
The Windrush scandal, and the Home Office’s response to it, has lowered spirits even further: “the declared move away from removal targets had left some unsure about what ‘success’ now looked like, and this was affecting morale.” Officers felt “other government departments” were less keen to collaborate with them and “less willing to be associated with Immigration Enforcement”.
One other big complaint was about the difficulty of recruitment. “As at September 2018, the budgeted headcount for ICE teams nationally was 1,208 full-time equivalents (FTEs), but there were 121 vacancies.” This was the case across all regions. As one manager said: “resources are a massive problem. We are 12 people down and this impacts on our capability to task and deploy.”
For example, according to the report:
“an ICE team of 7 officers might be tasked with 2 or 3 deployments in a day. If an individual was arrested during the first deployment and required escorting to a police station it would take 2 officers away. This would mean that the team would no longer have enough officers to complete the remaining deployments.”
In turn, that creates extra stress on the remaining officers, which means even more “staff going off with lots of sick.”
The other big hit on morale came from “a rise in attempts to disrupt ICE deployments through acts of violence against IE property or ICE officers, threatening behaviour, verbal abuse and protests, some of which appeared to have been coordinated using social media.”