‘Fighting an alligator in the water’: Reflections on the Kenmure Street ICE resistance

Haringey Anti-Raids reflect on the magical scenes in Glasgow and why the work of resisting immigration enforcement needs to begin long before ICE vans slither in to our communities.

The people of Pollokshields in Glasgow made an uncompromising name for themselves this week, as hundreds of local residents erupted onto Kenmure Street to stop a Home Office immigration van from kidnapping two members of their community on Thursday. The day-long stand-off was an incredible example of both what organised communities are capable of and the limits of state power when people come together.

As a fellow group organising against the state racism of border enforcement in our communities, we were deeply inspired by the resistance on Kenmure Street. We imagine that many Glaswegians who had never participated in that kind of action before, have now experienced what it feels like when you come together and win, against a system that has always told you that you are powerless in the face of its authority. That myth has been dispelled and the possibilities that open up in its wake are vast. That is something we hope can begin to reproduce itself in neighbourhoods across the country, building on Glasgow’s example.

As the local No Evictions Network drew attention to, following the release of the two men who had been detained by ICE (Immigration Control & Enforcement, formerly known as UKBA), this was neither a spontaneous uprising, nor was it a long-planned action. “The momentum built in a spontaneous and organic way,” No Evictions Network explained in a statement on Friday afternoon, “but this was only possible because of years of groundwork that had been laid by community organisers and activists.”

Of course, as with any successful organic action, the ability to take advantage of specific circumstances was critical, too. For one, the raid took place on Eid, which meant there were more people available to resist than would be the case for a usual weekday morning. For another, the forces of the state were divided between devolved and national governments, a weakness that those on the ground were able to exploit to prevent any coordinated response.

We sometimes say that you should never fight an alligator in the water. An alligator is a dangerous foe at the best of times, should you come across one, but your odds of survival plummet if they are able to drag you into the swamp. This is their home territory; you are fighting them on their terms.

In Pollokshields, massive community resistance beat the alligator in the water, but is it a tactic that is likely to be sustained or replicated across the dozens of raids that take place in every city, every day?  And if not, how do you keep the alligator out of the swamp? 

From our organising in Haringey, North-east London, we have had our own lower-profile confrontations with the Home Office in our area. Most of our organising though, happens in far less-remarkable settings – street stalls, shop outreach visits and workshops in factories and homeless accommodation. This is both the groundwork for the bigger moments that No Evictions Network described, but, perhaps even more importantly, is also based in our understanding of the effectiveness and replicability of different tactics.

Having a community – like that in Pollokshields – which can mount a sufficient counter challenge to a raid is something for all of us to aspire towards, but it is exponentially harder to get someone who has already been detained out of the van, than it is to stop them getting put in it in the first place. We want to fight the Home Office alligators on land, rather than in the swamp, whenever possible.

What would that mean in practice though? Well, since we know that ICE carry out a significant portion of their raids without warrants or any legal powers to back them, a well-informed community can go a long way. One shopkeeper closing their doors and denying entry to ICE goons takes a lot less energy than several hundred people spending a day in the streets and often achieves the same results. It still offers a place for community opposition to build and send a clear message to the Home Office, but can often happen before anyone is at immediate risk of being detained.

Similarly, refusal to engage with ICE; not telling them anything about yourself, your colleagues, your neighbours, is a critical preventative measure. Most people see flak vests and badges and handcuffs and assume they have little choice but to comply, or face serious violence. In reality though, there are very few situations in which ICE hold any of the same powers as regular police and thus there is much greater scope for total disengagement or active resistance, even within the letter of the law. (Some of us have tested this in court, and won).

In particular, it was ruled last year that if ICE teams are not in the process of executing a warrant for a named person at a specific address, do not have a signed letter from a Home Office assistant director, or are not authorised to search a particular type of business (such as those that sell alcohol), than they have no legal powers that are any different to you or me. 

They rely on the coercion and manipulation associated with their uniforms, but (currently) don’t have the law to back them up.

While these rights often only exist in theory (ICE agents routinely exceed their legal authority), knowledge of them – with strong networks of trust and solidarity in the immediate vicinity – provide space for communities to support each other to resist raids. 

The key to all of this, is that we can do so much more to stop people being body-snatched by the Home Office before ICE vans slither their ways into our communities to drag people into the swamp of immigration detention, than once they are already there.

Moments like those that took place in Glasgow this week are truly magic – they are the stories that give us hope and remind us of what is possible. And they are also never going to be everyday occurrences. But everyday occurrences – like bringing translated bust cards to your local shops, holding a consistent street stall and reaching out and running workshops in the very places that raids often occur (factories and homeless shelters, for example) – can keep untold people in our communities safe, in ways that we’ll never fully know.

Some information on setting up your own local anti-raids group can be found here.

If you’re in London, take a look at the research as to where raids are being targeted and see if there’s a local group that already covers that patch that you can get involved with.

Print off some ICE bust cards to distribute to local shops or community groups in your area.


Photo Credit: NotOneRogueCop on Twitter