Guest post by Dean Wilson and Panagia Voyatzis Hernandez. Dean is Professor of Criminology in the School of Law, Politics and Sociology at the University of Sussex, and is currently the chief investigator of the British Academy/Leverhulme Small Grant project ‘In-Country Immigration Policing in the UK: Enforcement, Networks and the Practice of “Crimmigration.”’ Panagia, who recently completed her PhD in Law at the University of Edinburgh, is a researcher on the project.

In recent decades, the UK has witnessed significant expansion of immigration policing activities performed within the territorial boundaries of the state. This tendency is clearly evident with the creation of specialist immigration policing agencies wielding far-reaching powers who, in partnership with a wide range of public and private agencies, are charged with policing and enforcing immigration laws. This post aims to briefly describe some of these developments which have progressively extended and intensified the internal policing of immigration in Britain.

Credit: flickr user sarflondondunc
In the UK, an important part of immigration policing activities is undertaken by the Immigration Compliance and Enforcement Teams (ICEs). Now positioned within UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) and under the ultimate direction of the Home Office, there are 19 ICEs spread across the UK. ICEs are underpinned by the language of ‘partnership,’ with the intention of extending their immigration enforcement reach by collaborating with a network of public and private partners. While the practices embraced by the ICEs are to some extent a continuation of the now defunct UK Border Agency’s ‘Local Immigration Teams,’ there has recently been a distinctly punitive turn in their orientation, shedding the vestiges of community engagement to embrace a harsh crime control stance. Thus while ICEs continue attempts to augment their operational capacity through the extension and optimization of a network of partners, such partners are cooperating with an increasingly enforcement and expulsion oriented agency wielding an incrementally enlarging armoury of powers.

Importantly, while ICEs cultivate relationships with a broad range of agencies, their most significant cooperative relationships are with the various UK police forces. Immigration authorities have coordinated joint operations with police for several decades. Nevertheless, cooperation is increasingly formalised through a plethora of memoranda of understanding (MoUs) between UKVI and individual police forces. A prominent effort to bring about the ‘smarter use of police and immigration interventions’ in order to  ‘more effectively tackle offending by foreign nationals’ was heralded with the commencement of Operation Nexus. The project―launched as a pilot in 2012, but expected to cover eleven regions across the country by spring 2015―aimed to improve intelligence and communication exchange between immigration officers and police in order to secure a more efficient response of ICEs. Immigration officers were stationed at local police stations throughout London, with the capacity to check the immigration status of anyone presenting at the station-house.

In an analogous manner, through Operation Mellor, immigration authorities have intensified their partnership with local registry offices. Operation Mellor aims to increase the number of referrals of suspected sham marriages to immigration authorities, and as a consequence facilitate the deportation of foreign nationals. The Home Office has already implemented a set of actions (including the opening an intelligence hub specialised in sham marriages) in order to detect and prevent ‘bogus’ weddings and civil partnerships. Although the actual effectiveness of Operation Mellor is highly questionable, the public projection of a strong approach to sham marriages is consistently mobilised within the media through frequent reports of ceremonies disrupted on the spot by immigration enforcement teams.

Engaging the same rationale, the Home Office has developed different forms of cooperation to bring forward the immigration agenda through the No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) network. As the agencies managing NRPF handle sensitive data on potential irregular immigration cases, there has been persistent concern that their sharing of information with the Home Office might activate the immigration enforcement apparatus against highly vulnerable people. In recent years, the Home Office seems determined to capitalise on the information of the NRPF network to enforce immigration law. In fact, under the motto ‘Resolution through Partnership,’ the Home Office made available the NRPF Connect database that, on the one hand, aims to help local authorities deciding NRPF cases and, on the other, is deemed to facilitate the opportune engagement of the ICEs. Additionally, in June 2014 the Home Office in partnership with the Lewisham Council started a pilot programme intended to reduce expenditure on NRPF claims. The programme involves creating a specialised team, including immigration officers, instructed to find more bases for refusing NRPF claims. The in-office immigration authorities are to conduct live checks of immigration status and to liaise with immigration enforcement teams if necessary. This model of immigration control is expanding to other boroughs who are initiating similar pilots.

The expanding tentacles of immigration policing within the UK have risen in tandem with augmented powers that have made ICEs progressively more police-like. This escalation of powers is problematic on numerous fronts―ranging from the deep inadequacies of the model of policing they promote, to the relative obscurity surrounding immigration operations and the lack of proportional accountability of immigration officers. Although immigration officers started accumulating policing powers since the 1971 Immigration Act, the process has progressively intensified through the years by a combination of legislation and policies. Presently, immigration officers have accumulated police-like powers, such as the powers to arrest, entry, search, seize, and fingerprint persons. This overall armoury of powers allows them to organise a range operations even without the presence of the police force. Not only have immigration officers acquired greater legal powers, but also they seem evermore determined to mobilize them to their full extent.

Immigration enforcement teams have been associated with practicing controversial stop and search operations and raids. In 2013―under the moniker Operation Chefornak―the ICEs, together with the London Metropolitan Police, targeted Romanian Roma sleeping rough in London’s Marble Arch during a dawn raid. Similar operations have been performed by ICEs teams on their own, as in the various ‘beds in sheds’ crackdowns intended to track down foreigners with no right to remain in the UK living in precarious accommodation. In recent years high profile raids have seldom been far from the headlines and have proven a popular tactic for ICEs. However the engagement of such paramilitary tactics in primarily black and ethnic minority (BME) communities can prove toxic for community relations, sending shockwaves of anxiety and insecurity cascading through already marginalised segments of society.

As one of the current priorities of the immigration authorities is tackling undocumented workers, ICE teams have multiplied their workplace operations. In 2014 the Home Office launched the polemical Operation Centurion, in which―according to leaked official documents―the ICEs were to organise raids in the workplaces assessed as prone to hire (legally or illegally) nationals from certain foreign countries. This operation was deeply criticised for its reliance upon racial profiling masquerading as intelligence to locate those suspected of having irregular status.

The extension and intensification of immigration policing is disquieting. As the policing of immigration expands towards ubiquity, we need to pay to close attention to the ways in which racialised and largely unaccountable forms of immigration policing unfold within Britain. Since daily life activities such as visiting welfare offices or attending the workplace are likely to become occasions where the borders might acquire material reality, the precariousness of the most vulnerable is progressively magnified. Moreover, such draconian immigration policing tactics reverberate through wider communities, leaving fear and distrust in their wake.

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style)

Wilson, D. and Voyatzis-Hernandez, P. (2015) The Intensification of In-country Migration Policing in the UK. Available at: https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/research-subject-groups/centre-criminology/centreborder-criminologies/blog/2015/09/intensification (Accessed [date]).