More than 200 British citizens in Glasgow underwent spot checks by immigration officers in 21 months, prompting claims the Home Office has been conducting racial profiling as part of the UK government’s “hostile environment” policy.
New data seen by The Ferret has revealed that 211 people in Glasgow were questioned by immigration officials in 2018-19 – the equivalent of one person every three days – despite past complaints that people were being targeted because of their skin colour.
Politicians and human rights groups have condemned the Home Office and called for an investigation into whether racial profiling has taken place, with people discriminated against because of their race.
They found that British citizens are stopped by immigration officers ten times a day on average, and that one-fifth of all people stopped and asked to prove their immigration status were British, a proportion which has remained unchanged for almost seven years.
The latest figures follow a study 18 months ago by The Bureau and Bristol Cable which revealed that a fifth of just over 100,000 people stopped in immigration enforcement operations between 2012 and 2017 were British citizens.
The Windrush scandal involved the wrongful detentions and deportations of some members of the Windrush generation – the thousands of people who travelled to the UK from the Caribbean in the years after World War Two.
British citizens are still stopped more than any other nationality in big cities. They were subject to immigration spot checks more than 25,000 times since 2012.
We reported in 2017 that almost one in three spot checks carried out by immigration officers in Glasgow over five years were on British citizens. Figures showed that between January 2012 and January 2017, a total of 4762 people were stopped and questioned as part of immigration operations termed “encounters” by the Home Office.
Of that total, 1501 people – or 32 per cent – stopped by immigration officials were British citizens, the second highest percentage of the 11 cities for which data was available.
Home Office guidelines state spot checks should only be carried out when officials have a “reasonable suspicion” that someone has committed an immigration offence. This can be based on intelligence or because of a person’s behaviour – but it must not be based on an individual’s personal characteristics.
An immigration officer “must not stop an individual based on their physical appearance,” the rules say.
Critics of UK Government policy include Scottish Greens Justice spokesperson, John Finnie MSP, who said the Home Office appears to have “learned nothing from the Windrush scandal with Theresa May’s hostile environment policy still very much in force”.
Racial profiling is exactly what the Home Office is engaged in - such a policy leads to a climate of fear, where innocent people are targeted because of the colour of their skin. Aamer Anwar, human rights lawyer
Aamer Anwar, a human rights lawyer and Glasgow University Rector, said: “What these statistics show is that people of colour can never expect to be considered British citizens when we have a Home Office hell bent on imposing a racist hostile environment.
“Racial profiling is exactly what the Home Office is engaged in – such a policy leads to a climate of fear, where innocent people are targeted because of the colour of their skin. There should be no real surprise that the Home Office conducts itself in such a manner when they continue with unlawful deportations and racist policies which gave us Windrush.”
The Equality and Human Rights Commission said it would be “extremely concerning” if immigration officials and the Home Office are carrying out checks through racial profiling.
“Powers to use tactics such as inspections, spot checks and stop and search must all be used in a non-discriminatory way and on the basis of reasonable evidence. Reports that suggest appropriate procedures are not being followed are worrying,” added a commission spokesperson
“We would need more information to determine whether British people who are recorded as being encountered by immigration enforcement have been victims of racial profiling. The Home Office should review its immigration policies to ensure they are in accordance with their legal equality duties and take appropriate action to address any shortcomings.”
Afzal Khan MP, Labour’s shadow immigration minister, said: “As with the Windrush scandal, this data raises serious questions about British citizens getting caught up in immigration enforcement. I am concerned that we have seen no improvement since the issue was raised two years ago.
“The Home Office must examine its methods of immigration enforcement.”
Khadija Mohammed, a lecturer in education at the University of the West of Scotland, told The Ferret she had been stopped on “many occasions” at airports, more so since taking the decision to wear a hijab.
She added: “I’m very aware of how I may be perceived and also notice the ‘looks’ – it’s hard to tell whether it is just my own heightened awareness of passing through security checks or that indeed, it is about speculating who and what I represent.
“What I do know is that it is not very pleasant – it’s almost like I have suddenly become an imposter! Not nice! However, I just keep telling myself, it’s part of the process – let them do their job, whatever that may be!”
The Home Office insisted that “enforcement operations” by immigration officers are “intelligence-led” and carried out “only where there is a reasonable prospect of encountering immigration offenders.”
“Immigration enforcement officers do not carry out random visits and nor do they stop individuals at random,” a Home Office spokesperson said.
“Officers interact with people for a range of reasons during the course of their operations, and it is not unusual for immigration enforcement officers to encounter British citizens during the course of their operations. Individuals may be arrested only where their actions provide reasonable grounds to suspect that they may be in breach of immigration law.”