Legal: What are my rights if I’m stopped or raided on immigration grounds?

This is the first part of a series covering the rights of migrants and the legal limits of state power.

Over the weekend, social media was flooded with information about what folks in the US should do if they are raided by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). This was in direct response to an announcement by Trump – on Twitter – that ICE would imminently begin a wave of pre-dawn raids targeting 2000 migrant families across the US (raids which were eventually postponed at the 11th hour).

While it was edifying to see so many Brits support and share these posts, the same attention is rarely, if ever, given to the more or less identical practices of our very own ICE: the UK Border Force. Raids on homes and workplaces are a daily occurrence in major British cities, and UKBF and/or the police regularly stop and question those they suspect of being “illegal immigrants” (in practice, anyone that looks or sounds a bit ‘foreign’). Very few people know their rights in such situations, a fact that immigration officers and cops regularly take advantage of. It’s therefore crucial that migrants and their allies get clued up on their rights.

What follows is partly adapted from the information collated and distributed by the Anti-Raids Network.

Your Rights:

  1. If immigration officers or the police stop you in the street and ask about your immigration status:

– You DO NOT have to answer any questions.

– You DO NOT have to tell them your name or address.

– Tell them that you do not want to talk to them.

– Stay polite but confident.

– You can walk away.

In line with the Equality Act, neither UKBF officers nor the police are allowed to stop you just because of your race or because you were speaking a language other than English; they need to have ‘reasonable grounds’ for assuming you have committed an immigration offence. In reality, border agents and cops will regularly stop people without reasonable grounds. In either case, the advice remains the same: don’t answer their questions, politely tell them you don’t want to talk and walk away.

  1. If immigration officers are attempting to raid your home or workplace:

– You DO NOT have to answer any of their questions or provide them with personal details.

– You DO NOT have to let them in – they can only come in if they have your consent, a warrant or a letter signed by. However: they do not need permission or a warrant to enter a workplace licensed to sell alcohol or late night food or drink (e.g. a take away, off-license etc).

– If they have a warrant, they can enter by force.

– If you are not under arrest, you are free to leave (although they will make it hard to do so).

If you are detained, call Bail for Immigration Detainees on 020 7247 359

Defending the Rights of Others:

If you see someone else being stopped or raided by immigration officers, or police on immigration grounds, AND your legal status does not put you at risk, it is recommended that you:

– Immediately make the person aware that they do not have to answer questions & that they can leave (if they are not under arrest)

– If the person doubts you, advise them to ask the officer if it’s true – immigration officers are meant to tell people this themselves before stopping them

– Remind the officers of the law

– Film the incident, where possible asking the person stopped if that’s ok, or just film the officers involved. This may be useful in making a claim in the event of an unlawful stop or arrest.

– Record the lapel numbers of the officers involved

– Make other members of the public aware of what’s happening

– Get witnesses’ contact details if the stop leads to an arrest or the person wants to pursue it afterwards

– Attempt to pass on a phone number to the individual if you think the stop will lead to arrest. Possible useful numbers include Soas Detainee Support: 07438407570 or Bail for Immigration Detainees: 020 7456 9750

– Note that physically obstructing officers may put you at risk of arrest for obstruction.

Stop & Search and Mobile Fingerprinting:

If the police obtain your name during a stop and search, they will often run it past Home Office immigration databases, as well as the Police National Computer. If it comes back that you are suspected of committing an immigration offence, the police will almost certainly arrest you. However: you are NOT obliged to give your name under any stop and search power.

As discussed in a previous article, the police are stepping up their deployment of mobile fingerprinting devices that automatically check a suspect’s prints against criminal and immigration records. While the police do use these devices during regular stop and searches, they should take your fingerprints ONLY if they have reason to suspect you have committed an offence (i.e. they have grounds to arrest you) AND they have reason to doubt that you have provided your real name and address. If you are merely questioned or searched, you DO NOT have to provide your fingerprints.

For more information, visit the Anti-Raids Network website.

Carl Spender


Image: Anti-Raids Network