This briefing updates our 2016 report on immigration raids called “Snitches, Stings and Leaks”, and adds new information including a section on resistance and its impacts. It is also a chapter in our new book The UK Border Regime – which is now available to order, or download for free.
For information on what to do if you see a raid, including legal advice cards and posters to print out in many languages, see the Antiraids Network website.
Raids are the Home Office’s basic terror tactic against migrants inside the UK. Nineteen raid squads across the country – called Immigration Compliance and Enforcement (ICE) teams – hit dozens of addresses each day.
First come dawn raids against residential addresses, to catch people while they’re still sleeping. Later, the squads hit restaurants, shops and factories in “illegal working” raids: there are around 6,000 of these a year, arresting around 5,000 people. Or they join up with police and others in multi-agency operations against public transport, rough sleepers, street markets, and other targets.
Largely based on tip-offs and other “low grade intelligence”, the squads hit easy targets – their great favourite is Indian takeaways. Yet they often come away with few arrests, and many people are released straight away as “not removable”. What the raids do, though, is spread a climate of fear in migrant communities – affecting “legal” as well as “illegal” migrants.
In this briefing first we give a basic snapshot of some main types of raids and who they target. Then we’ll look at a few issues in more depth:
- Informing by “members of the public”. Around 50,000 public tip-offs a year provide the bulk of initial intelligence.
- Employer collaboration. Standard ICE approaches include getting employers to hand over workers’ personal details, including home addresses, or even helping arrange workplace sting operations or “arrests by appointment” – as in the infamous 2016 case of Byron Burgers.
- Entry and interrogation without warrants. Less than half of raids are sanctioned by court warrants.Immigration officers typically claim that businesses give so-called “consent” on the door.
- The impact of resistance. There has been significant resistance to raids in recent years. This has changed the way squads operate, and noticeably dented their arrogance.
TYPES OF RAIDS
The ICE teams carry out various kinds of operations, from crashing wedding ceremonies to linking up with ticket inspectors on buses and at train stations in working class areas. We do not have precise figures, but we know that most raids are of two types: residential raids, and workplace raids.
Until around 2015, high profile “street stops” – stopping and questioning people just walking in the street – were another common tactic. These have decreased in recent years, after provoking controversy as particularly blatant“fishing expeditions” based on racial profiling.
Workplace raids vary from routine corner-shop busts to operations against big factories or multiple premises, possibly involving a number of ICE teams alongside other state agencies. It would be good to do more research on residential raids. But the task is hard: they are highly secretive, happening well away from the public gaze, and with minimal reporting or oversight. And with rare exceptions (e.g. the Glasgow tower blocks that organised against regular dawn raids in the mid 2000s) this means they have faced less coordinated resistance.
There is also a need to investigate raid activities linked to newer hostile environment policies. For example, the “right to rent” introduced in the 2014 Immigration Act requires landlords to check documents of prospective tenants. This may have led to new kinds of residential raids – e.g. ICE teams sourcing “illegal renters’” details from landlords or letting agents.
A SNAPSHOT IN FIGURES
One statistic the Home Office publishes is the number of arrests made every three months – but only from raids “where the intelligence source type is recorded as information received”. In 2017, 3,034 people were arrested in raids following “information received”. Less than a quarter of them, 697, ended up being deported.i
For workplace raids, a good snapshot comes from a December 2015 report by the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration (ICIBI).ii According to this, the Home Office carried out a total of 36,381 illegal working “visits” across the UK in the six years from 2009 to 2014. That is roughly 6,000 workplace raids a year. From those, there were 29,113 arrests, just under 5,000 a year. More than two thirds of visits (24,621, or 68%) didn’t lead to any “illegal workers identified” or arrested, but clearly others ended with multiple arrests. Although we don’t have comparable figures since 2015, we believe the same patterns continue.
THE RAID SQUADS
There are nineteen ICE teams in the UK. Five of them cover London areas. The Central and North teams are both based at Becket House, next to London Bridge station. The South team is based at the main Home Office headquarters in Lunar House, Croydon. You can see the full list of teams and their bases on the Home Office website.
Each local unit is headed by an Assistant Director. Raid squads on the ground are usually headed by an Inspectoror Chief Immigration Officer, and made up of a mix of Immigration Officers (IOs), and Assistant Immigration Officers (AIOs). New officers get just 25 days basic training, plus another three weeks taught by the College of Policing before they are “arrest trained”.
Many recruits come from within the Home Office: junior office workers who take the chance of a more active life with slightly better pay. Others are recruited externally. Quite a few are ex-soldiers, a smaller number are ex-police. On the whole, there is not so much love lost between police and ICE: IOs are paid worse than real cops, and looked down on as ill-trained amateurs.
On the other hand, according to their trade union leader, the ICE team officer who makes the most arrests in a month does get “cake and possibly a box of Roses chocolates”.
Alongside the raid teams themselves, there are much smaller local Operational Intelligence Units (OIUs), staffed by Field Intelligence Officers (FIOs). ICE teams are meant to pass on more serious “organised crime” investigations to the Crime and Financial Investigation (CFI) teams. A separate central unit, called the Civil Penalty Compliance Team (CPCT), is in charge of chasing up penalties for employers found breaking immigration rules.
ICE CULTURE AND MORALE
Some insights into the culture of the ICE teams come from interviews carried out by the Oxford University research project called “Does Immigration Enforcement Matter”.iii The overall impression is of rock bottom morale. Interviewed officers raised many specific complaints, including:
- Confusing internal structures: “the problem is we’ve got so many directorates and strategic, you know, teams, so many little enforcement units around the country” (words of an Immigration Officer); “it’s this obsession with re-branding, even changing the names of units and acronyms” (a Chief Immigration Officer).
- London bias: “a very London-centric organisation” (an IO).
- Stress and overwork: “[we’re told to] keep on nicking people, you just churn, churn, churn” (a former IO).
- Budget cuts and low pay: austerity means smaller teams, intelligence gathering is skipped, staff are moved around the country to deal with crises, and backlogs build up. Above all, officers complained about a ban on overtime: “management said no overtime, seniors said no budget. So what happens, we do unpaid hours” (an IO).
- Outdated IT and an incoherent array of systems. (See The UK Border Regime chapter 11).
- Bullying: “bullying is quite a problem” (a CIO).
- Leading to general low morale: “my incentive to do the job is rock bottom” (an IO), “morale is very, very low” (a former manager).
WHO GETS RAIDED?
The 2015 ICIBI report gives a snapshot of who is arrested in workplace raids. The number one targets are South Asian men.
Twelve times more men than women were arrested between September 2012 and January 2014. In the same period, 75% of all people arrested in workplace raids were from Bangladesh, Pakistan or India, in that order. The top ten nationalities, in full, were: Bangladesh 27%, Pakistan 27%, India 21%, China 10%, Nigeria 3%, Afghanistan 3%, Sri Lanka 3%, Nepal 2%, Vietnam 2%, Albania 2%.
The gender balance mirrors detention places, but the nationality breakdown is fairly specific to workplace raids. It reflects not just the history of British colonialism, but the types of businesses that offer easy targets. The ICIBI report sampled 184 visit files, and found:
… one hundred and seven of the 184 premises visited were high street restaurants and/or takeaways, mostly Indian Subcontinent or Chinese cuisine, with some fried chicken outlets.iv
The high number of Pakistanis is also connected to the attempt to fill regular charter flight deportations to that country (see The UK Border Regime chapter 8). On the other hand, Chinese people are seen as generally harder to deport – the Chinese government does not co-operate so readily with providing travel documents.
The ICIBI report suggests that Home Office bosses don’t see the obsession with Asian restaurants as ideal: “some ICE managers told us that more attention should be paid to other sectors.” But we still haven’t seen much evidence of change.
In the ICIBI sample, 45% of people arrested were “overstayers”, i.e. people who arrived in the UK on a valid visa but then stayed after it had run out; 20% were “illegal entrants”; 13% were “working in breach” of their visa conditions: e.g. asylum seekers or students working full time.
TIMELINE: FROM TIP-OFF TO DETENTION
- 1. Gathering “intelligence”
Intelligence officers sort through tip-offs, add their own leads, and supposedly “research and enrich” them. They then prepare “intelligence packages” on potential targets.
- 2. Picking targets
Each ICE unit has a weekly “tasking group” meeting to plan operations. This might consider 40 or 50 potential operations, though not all will be approved. It will look at:
- “packages” presented by intelligence officers;
- residential targets sent by case workers and reporting centres, e.g. “absconders” (see The UK Border Regimechapter 5);
- monthly priorities set by national and regional commanders;
- priorities sent by the National Removals Command (NRC), e.g. to fill a charter flight;
- joint working plans with neighbouring ICE teams and with other agencies such as police and local authorities.
In the absence of special instructions, “removability” tops the criteria for deciding targets. Some nationalities are much easier to deport than others: e.g. Albanians and Pakistanis, the biggest charter flight nationalities. At the bottom are Syrians or Palestinians, or nationalities such as Iranians or Russians whose governments don’t readily co-operate in issuing travel documents. The NRC, which is in charge of coordinating all deportations and also authorising detentions, plays a key role here. (See ourbriefing on deportations.)
- 3. Planning and legal access
The tasking group will allocate an “officer in charge” for each raid. They should make a plan for the raid and co-ordinate with police or other agencies involved. They may carry out reconnaissance (a “recce”) of the target. However, budget cuts mean nowadays recces are often just a quick look on Google Earth.
In theory, the officer in charge should also prepare a legal means to gain access to the target address. The three main options are: a court warrant; an “Assistant Director’s letter”; or claimed “consent” from the legal occupier of the property. As discussed below, these procedures are systematically abused.
- 4. The daily grind
ICE teams typically assemble in the early hours (e.g. around 4 to 5 am) for morning briefings, then head out for residential dawn raids. The schedule may change if, e.g. major “joint agency” operations are planned. Raids continue through the day, and into the evening, on workplaces and other targets. Each ICE unit may have two or more teams working simultaneously. They may aim to carry out around five “visits” during the day – although this could also include other duties such as “compliance visits” on employers (see below).
- 5. The raid
Squads gain entry to the premises, with or without legal “consent”. In theory, they should only question: individuals who have come to their attention through “prior intelligence”; their family members; or other people whose behaviour gives specific grounds to suspect them of “immigration offences”. In practice, though, they just round up anyone who looks or sounds “foreign”. They aggressively question people, and may use mobile fingerprint scanners. They may also search the property, e.g. for documents, money, and driving licenses (in order to prosecute people under the new “driving whilst illegal” law – see The UK Border Regime chapter 10 on Hostile Environment measures).
- 6. Arrests – “removability”
Arrested people are taken back to the ICE base. This is usually in a building shared with a “reporting centre” (seeThe UK Border Regime chapter 5) and a cell block called a Short Term Holding Facility. Private Mitie security guards handle custody. But arrests also take one or more immigration officers out of action for several hours to process the prisoners.
That includes calling the National Removals Command, who have to authorise any detentions. This is a source of tension: officers get frustrated if they are instructed to release captives who don’t meet current NRC priorities. Those who are detained will be collected in the evening by a Mitie transport van. Other people may be released with reporting requirements.
- 7. Aftermath
The proportion of removals following ICE “intelligence led” raids is extremely low. Only 23% of “enforcement visit arrests linked to information received” actually led to anyone being “removed”. Many others will linger in detention for weeks, months, or even years before being let go.
As for the employers, there is the chance of a criminal charge, but the most common outcome is a civil penalty of up to £20,000 per worker (see below). However, the Home Office’s record in actually collecting these fines is poor. According to the 2015 ICIBI report, only “around 31% of debt raised was recovered and […] it took an average of 28.4 months to recover it.”