Almost one in three spot checks carried out by immigration officers in Glasgow over the last five years were on British citizens, according to data released under a freedom information request.
The figures also reveal that 19,096 people – almost one in five – out of 102,552 checked during immigration operations in 11 of the UK’s major cities were British, raising serious concerns about racial profiling.
In response, politicians and human rights organisations have strongly condemned the Home Office and called for an investigation into whether racial profiling has taken place and people have been discriminated against because of their race.
Critics of the government also said that an urgent review of how the Home Office uses information leading to immigration operations – sometimes known as “raids” – is needed.
Figures for Glasgow shared with The Ferret show that between January 2012 and January 2017, a total of 4,762 people were stopped and questioned as part of immigration operations termed “encounters” by the Home Office.
Of that total, 1,501 people, or 32 per cent, stopped by immigration officials were British citizens, the second highest percentage of the 11 cities for which data is available.
Only Sheffield, where 33 percent of those stopped were British is higher. The figure for Leeds was 29 per cent, 26 per cent for Birmingham and 14 per cent in London.
In Glasgow, just six British citizens were arrested following questioning, though it is not clear on what grounds, or if they were prosecuted.
John Wilkes, director of the Equality and Human Rights Commission in Scotland, said: “It would be deeply worrying if immigration officials and the Home Office were not following the law and their own guidance regarding immigration spot checks.
“If only a fifth of checks in Glasgow result in arrests, and a significant number of those stopped are already UK citizens, questions need to be asked about the quality of the evidence that is leading the Borders Agency’s approach.”
He called for more information to be made available and said the commission was considering what steps to take to secure it.
The next highest number of nationalities stopped after UK citizens were Pakistani (852 stopped, 342 arrested), Indian (611 stopped, 278 arrested) and Chinese (232 stopped and 87 arrested).
Other top nationalities include Romanian (189 stopped, nine arrested), Nigerian (147 stopped, 49 arrested), Polish (100 stopped, 4 arrested) and Slovakian (91 stopped, one arrested).
Other countries in the top ten include Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iran.
Thirty one American citizens were also questioned as well tens of French, Italians and Portuguese, though no Australians were stopped.
Overall just 22 percent of raids led to arrests.
Human rights lawyer and Glasgow University Rector Aamer Anwar said he was aware of several “raids” on restaurants and beauty parlours where everyone – whether British or not – had been questioned, often on the premises and sometimes at the Home Office’s Glasgow headquarters in Brand Street.
“People are being treated as if they have committed a criminal offence,” he said. “The word “raid” is often used. It can be quite frightening and people have complained that immigration officials can be rude.
There is definitely racial profiling going on and we’re increasingly concerned about the intelligence...everybody is being turned into an agent for the Home Office. Aamer Anwar
“There is definitely racial profiling going on and we’re increasingly concerned about the intelligence. If someone makes a call [to the Home Office] are assumptions being made?
“Are they just taking the word of the general public or a rival business or are they doing their homework first, checking with HMRC how many people are working there, doing covert monitoring? We have concerns that in the current climate everybody is being turned into an agent for the Home Office.”
A spokeswoman for Glasgow’s Unity Centre, which supports refugees and migrants, said she had also witnessed immigration raids – attended by Police Scotland – in the southside area of Govanhill in Glasgow, where Roma communities from Romania and Slovakia live.
The figures were obtained by the Bristol Cable, which has been working in partnership with the Bureau Local – a project by The Bureau of Investigative journalism, which sees reporters from across the UK collaborate on stories.
It came after a seven month battle with the Home Office, in which the UK Government repeatedly missed deadlines to provide the data, leading to an internal review.
Eventually the Home Office was compelled to hand over the information by the Information Commissioner.
Under the Equality Act 2010 it is against the law for immigration officers to discriminate on the basis of race (which includes colour, nationality, ethnic or national origins).
According to Home Office guidance, immigration officers must not simply request identification from everyone in attempt to show they are not discriminating but must be able to show “reasonable suspicion” in all cases, that the person stopped is guilty of an immigration offence.
However, a report released by Corporate Watch last year highlighted various concerns about the quality of data used by immigration enforcement team.
The report, which made use of leaked Home Office documents, claims the bulk of initial intelligence comes from around 50,000 “uncorroborated” “allegations” per year from “members of the public”.
Only a small number came from Police.
Researchers found that immigration officers can follow up tip-offs by contacting employers and asking them to collaborate ahead of raids, with reductions made on fines of up to £20k per illegal worker offered. Though cooperation is supposedly voluntary, employers said they did not feel able to refuse.
Lawyer Razia Karim, a member of campaign network Race Equality Matters said that although the Home Office may argue that raids on Indian and Chinese restaurants are done because experience shows they yield results, they did not carry out the same number of raids on establishments owned by white British people, although they too may commit immigration offences.
“I do consider that profiling of communities plays a part,” she added, claiming that the Home Office should be held to account.
The public should also demand that Equality and Human Rights Commissions (EHRC) uses its enforcement powers to investigate, she claimed.
Robina Qureshi, director of Positive Action in Housing, said the figures were ”unacceptable” and “shocking” agreed that the EHRC should demand answers,” she added. Spot checks are divisive and counterproductive.
“It drags everyone, not just the illusive “illegal” immigrants, into the “hostile environment” that Theresa May is trying to create.
“It’s a tactic of fear and humiliation directed at anyone who is a minority, a refugee, an immigrant and in Glasgow we are right to be worried because it has the second highest refugee population in the UK.
“Her [May’s] policy is poisoning community relations and encouraging racism, division and disenfranchisement of whole communities that thought they actually belonged.”
Questions need to be asked about the quality of the evidence that is leading the Borders Agency’s approach. John Wilkes, Equality and Human Rights Commission in Scotland
Danny Boyle, policy officer of BEMIS, said: “The figures provided that 1501 British citizens have been involved in “immigration raids and street searches” certainly poses further queries.
“Our primary concern would be that Immigration Policy implementation in the current “anti-immigrant” environment has developed a symptom of ‘racial profiling’.
“We would however require further information on the locus of incidents and ‘ethnicities’ of British citizens before we could determine racial profiling as singularly underpinning this anomaly.”
The Scottish Government said it was not involved in operations and “would be concerned if racial profiling “has been deployed as suggested.”
A spokesman for the Home Office said that British citizens “may be arrested for connected criminal offences arising from an immigration enforcement encounter” but are not subject to removal from the country.
He insisted all immigration enforcement activity is intelligence led and fully compliant with the Equality Act 2010.
He added: “Immigration Enforcement officers are empowered to carry out an in-country examination of a person to establish their immigration status where they reasonably suspect that the person is in breach of immigration law”.
Cover photo: Buchanan Street, Glasgow | John Loach | CC | https://flic.kr/p/UwHQbw