“You could feel the atmosphere”: the public is turning against the Hostile Environment, including immigration raids


A report released last month by the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, into “the Home Office’s approach to illegal working”, provided an interesting window onto perceptions of the Home Office, and the lack of public support for enforcement operations.

This can in part be attributed to the reverberations of the Windrush Scandal, where the reality and human impact of the Hostile Environment policies and mindset were really laid bare.

The media coverage of the scandal, and the public outrage in response to it, may not yet have resulted in a culture-shift that is so sorely needed at the Home Office but there are positive signs that these toxic policies and behaviour are increasingly unpalatable to the public, and indeed to other government departments.

Inspectors were told repeatedly by staff at all levels of IE [immigration enforcement] that Windrush had affected the public perception of IE’s work and this was having an adverse effect. At senior levels it had made engaging with businesses more challenging. On the frontline, officers had been subjected to verbal abuse and hostility.

A focus group of middle managers told inspectors that Windrush had led “to such a negative impact on the front line. You could feel the atmosphere”.

“The general view was that Windrush had fundamentally altered the environment in which IE operated. For ICE teams, in particular, the absence of removals targets had made it harder
to evaluate the impact of their work and to define “success”…

Meanwhile, proactive data-sharing, engagement with partners, and operations were running at a significantly reduced rate.

Senior Managers told inspectors that the impact of Windrush was also being felt in staff recruitment and collaborative working, including with other government departments. The work of the Illegal Working Steering Group had been paused as “[the] impact of Windrush had led to a
situation where OGDs [other government departments] did not want to be seen working with us.”

While it is disappointing to read that “Immigration Compliance and Enforcement (ICE) teams were still largely reliant on allegations received from members of the public as the main source of operational leads”, public solidarity and action can seen to be a strong force for change in other areas of the report.

The report states that the “general public were now less supportive” of immigration enforcement actions.

The increase in disruption of immigration raids has lead to the Home Office starting to keep “Activist Intel Reports”, though the report notes that “the majority of incidents were not coordinated by a group or activist, but involved members of the local community, unaffiliated to any groups”.

Find out more about making sure that people know their rights during immigration raids and street checks via the Anti Raids Network here.

It is also interesting to note that the raids don’t seem to lead to “success” (by the Home Office’s measures).

Like arrests, [removals] had been declining year-on-year since 2015-16, but at a more significant rate.

And, if the 2018-19 year-to-date rate of removals continued for the remainder of 2018-19, the annual total would be less than a third of the
previous year, and only 16% of the 2015-16 total.

If the raids aren’t leading to arrests or people being removed from the UK, why do them? A similar point can be made about the use of immigration detention, supposedly used to facilitate the removal of people from the UK, yet the latest statistics show that only 39% of people were removed from the UK from detention; 61% were released to continue living in the UK. Read more in this Detention Forum blog post.

One of the answers to this is about performative politics.

The report refers to the use of “educational visits” to business premises by Immigration Compliance and Enforcement (ICE) teams. We’ve witnessed these visits in action, and it’s interesting that “education” seems to require a team of five or six, intimidatingly uniformed enforcement officers.

A public statement of being “tough” on immigration then? Of showing local communities who’s boss? But as the excellent book “Go Home?” points out (prompted by the “Go Home” vans and other immigration controversies), this tactic appals those who are pro-immigration or even vaguely sympathetic to it, and doesn’t impress those who are against it.

Yet more evidence that an approach of division and intimidation is unpopular with the public and undermines faith in the Home Office. Change is long overdue.


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