THE BLOG

Cynical Immigration Enforcement Stunts To Get Votes

05/08/2013 10:55 BST | Updated 04/10/2013 10:12 BST

Conservative Immigration Minister, Mark Harper has said the recent operations in London aimed at identifying and detaining people committing immigration offenses are intelligence led and not based on the ethnicity of those stopped. He is quoted as saying "We don't just stop people at random". He is also quoted as saying "They are not allowed to do it based on someone's physical appearance. If, someone, when seeing an immigration officer, behaved in a very suspicious way, that might give us reasonable suspicion to question them"

As an ex-police officer I cannot imagine how people stopped in busy public areas are being identified as likely immigration offenders on the basis of any 'reasonable suspicion'. Behaving in a suspicious way because you see an immigration officer is not grounds for a reasonable suspicion.

This point is important because this could be driven by party politics and if people are being stopped and questioned improperly - on the basis of their ethnicity for political reasons - then it should be a worry for us all. It is worth noting that we won't ever find out the ethnicity of those being stopped because it is not being recorded.

In my experience the level of 'reasonable suspicion' that police work to (or should work to), when making an arrest is about having reasonable suspicion that a particular individual has committed a particular type of offense or - when it comes to normal stop and search - a reasonable suspicion that a person is carrying a particular object in a particular pocket (or wherever).

So you can't arrest someone or even stop and search them without objective evidence or a reasonable suspicion that the individual has actually done something fairly specific.

So you would be entitled to search someone if - for instance- you noticed a knife handle in their belt or they fitted the description of someone seen to steal something. You could not stop and search a person simply because he or she was an habitual thief or was of an ethnic group who you thought was more likely to commit offenses in the absence of this objective evidence - obviously the latter would be racism.

As I understand it the United Kingdom Border Agency would have to operate under the same principles. So to have the 'reasonable suspicion' Mark Harper claims, you would have to see some evidence that a particular individual has committed a particular offense say 'over staying' or entering the country illegally before stopping them and asking them about their immigration status - that is his claim.

What on earth would that evidence be? Could it be an obviously faked passport hanging out of a pocket? Could it be evidence of them being recently concealed in the back of a lorry for some time and distance? Perhaps they could be talking loudly about the immigration offenses they have committed? Obviously this is unlikely. So how are they selecting people from crowds to ask them about their immigration status?

Mark Harper has said that people could be stopped if they 'behaved in a suspicious way' when seeing an immigration officer.

There you have it - an all inclusive reason for stopping who you like. Nothing to suggest they have committed a particular offenses just that they might be act in a way that 'looks suspicious'. Could it include being nervous of immigration officers because they know they will get stopped because of their ethnicity? It sounds like it could include any behavior you care to name - looking or not looking at the officers - appearing to walk away from them - well anything really. This is not reasonable suspicion by the standards set for most other law enforcement activites.

If they are stopping people on the basis of their ethnicity then this will be damaging to a very diverse community in London and other parts of the Country. If I was stopped routinely because of my ethnicity (not likely of course in my case) I might begin to feel less a part of society and less valued - all this for more votes.

We need laws to govern who comes in to this Country and we need people to enforce those laws but there is something very ugly about politicians using the immigration issue in this cynical way.

Why is this crackdown on immigration offenses happening anyway? We are entitled to have reasonable suspicion that it is about party politics. The evidence includes the press releases highlighting anti-immigration operations- the silly van with the sign threatening the arrest of illegal immigrants - the twitter feeds about immigration arrests - and that UKIP came second in the Eastleigh by-election and the Conservatives third.