A leading immigration lawyer points out the dangers in the UK Borders Bill.
The UK Borders Bill, which had its second reading on 5 February 2007, continues the trend of previous legislation, giving immigration officers further powers, decreasing the rights of those subject to immigration control and creating further duties and penalties for them. Its effect is bound to be to reinforce xenophobia and popular racism – unless the draconian nature of some of its provisions leads to a groundswell of anti-racist protest.
Under the Bill, anyone subject to immigration control must have a biometric ID card. Any lawful migrant can be forced to live in particular places and report to police or immigration officers as a condition of his/her stay. Immigration officers and police can go into the home of anyone they have arrested and search for nationality documents if they suspect that the person is not British. And foreigners who commit any one of a vast range of ‘specified’ offences, or who are sentenced to twelve months’ imprisonment for any offence, are automatically deported, with no appeal rights, no matter how long they have lived in the country, or the value of the contribution they have made to society here, unless their deportation clearly breaches their human rights or they are refugees.
The increased powers for immigration officers include a power for designated officers to arrest anyone at a port and hold them for three hours. It’s a criminal offence to abscond from this detention or to obstruct an officer imposing it, punishable by almost a year’s imprisonment. Immigration officers can also seize cash alleged to be proceeds of Immigration Act offences (including working in breach of conditions). Immigration officers’ powers have steadily increased to parallel powers of police in the last four immigration measures – the 1999, 2002, 2004 and 2006 Acts. But unlike the police, there are no mechanisms for ensuring immigration officers’ accountability or for controlling abuse of powers.
The Bill, presented as a measure to defend Britain’s borders from illegal immigration and organised crime, went through its second reading largely unopposed – Neil Gerrard MP raised the issue of the lack of accountability of immigration officers, but others welcomed the Bill’s increased powers of deportation. Organisations assisting refugee children and detainees expressed serious concerns about the Bill, referring to the Prisons’ Inspector Anne Owers’ severe criticism of short-term holding centres and to the failure of the government to address or prevent the detention of children and of other vulnerable people. The provisions will lead to more detention – at ports and airports; of those unable to produce their bio-ID cards and suspected of committing ‘immigration offences’, and of prospective deportees – with no safeguards against abuse.