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Following the controversial recent “go home or face arrest” campaign targeting immigrants in the UK without legal status, the Home Office finds itself in the midst of a new controversy over spot-checks carried out in London in the past few days.
According to the Independent, border enforcement officers conducted random stop-and-check operations near stations in the areas of Walthamstow, Kensal Green, Stratford and Cricklewood.
Concerns have been raised that the officers were using “racial profiling” and stopping only non-white persons.
Stella Creasy, Labour MP for Walthamstow, told the Independent: “I’ve been told they were only stopping people who looked Asian or African and not anyone who was white. This kind of fishing expedition in public place is entirely unacceptable. I will not have my constituents treated in such a manner.”
A witness to events at Kensal Green was quoted as saying: “They appeared to be stopping and questioning every non-white person, many of whom were clearly ordinary Kensal Green residents going to work. When I queried what was going on, I was threatened with arrest for obstruction and was told to ‘crack on’.”
Writing in the Independent, the chief executive of Refugee Action warned that “we are increasingly seeing what appears to be hostility towards non-white immigration, which will do nothing but incite racial tensions and divisions within otherwise rich and diverse communities.”
According to BBC News, the Equality and Human Rights Commission said it would examine the spot-checks for possible unlawful discrimination.
Channel 4 News reported that the Home Office defended its actions and said many similar actions are carried out every year in the capital.
A spokesman told Channel 4 News: “We make no apology for enforcing our immigration laws and our officers carry out hundreds of operations like this every year around London. Where we find people who are in the UK illegally we will seek to remove them.”
On the specific action in Walthamstow, the spokesman said: “Immigration enforcement officers conducted an operation at Walthamstow Central underground station and hub today, based on intelligence, where they questioned individuals to check if they had the right to be in the UK. They arrested 12 people who were in the country illegally. Two further people were arrested in follow-up house searches.”
Immigration Minister Mark Harper was quoted by BBC News as saying that the operations had been “based on intelligence and reasonable suspicion” and the arrests were “lawful and proportionate”.
“We don’t just stop people at random,” he said.
He later said the street operations “involved immigration officers talking to people in the local area and, where there was a reason to do so, asking questions in relation to immigration status”.
According to the Telegraph, similar actions to those in London were also carried out in Durham, Manchester, Wales and Somerset.
In total, immigration enforcement officers arrested 139 people.
Both the Telegraph and the Guardian reported on the social media reaction to the controversy. In an opinion piece in the Independent, novelist Alex Wheatle says he believes recent Home Office controversies are a calculated shift by Theresa May to win back votes from UKIP voters for the Conservatives.
An opinion poll in the Telegraph was currently showing that some 75 per cent of respondents believed it was “fair to use racial profiling when looking for illegal immigrants.”