Home Office Immigration Enforcement officers seize up to forty people a day. They carry out raids in communities with large ethnic minority populations, without warning, and snatch their unsuspecting targets, who are often uninformed about their rights, from their places of work or off the street.
Immigration Enforcement (IE) replaced part of the UK Border Agency in 2013 to carry on the work of tackling so-called ‘immigration offences’. According to Home Office statistics, there were more than 4400 ‘enforcement visit arrests linked to information received’ last year, leading to over 1000 ‘subsequent removals’. In total there were over 12,000 enforced removals for breaches of UK immigration law in 2014. How many of them were the result of the 10,000 indiscriminate (i.e. not ‘linked to information received’) raids isn’t clear. Many of the people who aren’t deported end up in detention centres; others are released. Again, the precise figures aren't published.
The spectre of the 'illegal immigrant' in the mass media allows the raids to take place with little public concern. But there is resistance to them. In Walworth on Sunday, local people, together with activists engaged in housing and anti-racism struggles, got to the scene quick enough to obstruct the arrest of a migrant working in a shop. When someone sees an arrest going on, or spots the IE vans, they can feed the information to anti-raids networks that spread the news on social media.
Groups such as the Anti-Raids Network also provide information, in several languages, about what to expect from IE officers, and what people’s rights are: you do not have to comply if you face harassment or racial-profiling.
People in Walworth stood in the IE van’s way to prevent it from leaving, let the air out of its tyres and pelted it with fruit from the market. Anti-racist chants and music drew more and more people to defy the IE officers and the police who turned out to defend them. I got there early, and was able to see the way the mood changed with increasing police numbers.
‘He's going, there's nothing you can do about it,' the police kept saying. The community response was: ‘No, he isn’t illegal.’ Eventually the police sent in three vans of Territorial Support Group officers. By running at the crowd, pushing protesters to the ground and unleashing dogs on people, including children, the riot police allowed the Immigration Enforcement van to get away, their prisoner caged in the back. After a running battle with angry residents, the rest of the police drove away.
Immigration raids and sweeps are violent and racist. It may be that the only way to stop them is by forcing thirty or more riot police to turn up and get involved, so that the state brutality is plainer to see, and snatching people for deportation becomes more trouble for the authorities than it’s worth.