Dawn raids – where enforcement officers force their way into a house, place of worship of even a care home while the occupants are still sleeping to find and detain illegal immigrants – are one of the more aggressive expressions of Priti Patel’s border policy. They’re also one of the least effective.
In 2019, less than one in 10 immigration raids resulted in someone being deported or removed from the UK, despite that being their primary aim. In the same year, the Home Office conducted 18 raids on care homes, none of which resulted in a deportation. In fact, one in five people quizzed by the Home Office after a raid are actually British citizens.
Before the pandemic the Home Office was undertaking dozens of raids every week. As we are now edging towards the removal of all restrictions, they are expected to resume. Over half of all raids take place in people’s workplaces, in the attempt to find and detain migrants that the UK Home Office suspect to be illegally living and working in the UK. The raids can also take place in people’s homes and in places of worship. Over the past five years there has also been a rise in immigration raids in care homes, with 190 being raided since 2016.
Such frequent raids are not cheap. The Immigration Enforcement arm of the Home Office employs around 5000 people and has a budget of about £392 million a year. This is a very large sum of money and can only be justifiable if it serves its purpose and serves it well.
But the dawn raid tactic causes immense disruption, especially in workplaces and places of worship, and forces migrant communities to live in constant fear of being forcibly removed from the country without warning.
This fear is exacerbated by the ‘intelligence-led’ methods used by the Home Office to determine where and who should be raided. The UK government encourages citizens to ‘tip off’ the Home Office if they feel someone is living in their community illegally. It is estimated that the Home Office receives around 50,000 ‘tip-offs’ a year. Combined with the fact that doctors, landlords and employers are all legally required to check the immigration status of people they encounter, or face penalties, much of the Home Office’s job is done for them. Instead of having to hire their own intelligence officials, the role is outsourced to members of the public.
This creates an unhealthy atmosphere, with neighbours spying on each other, and exacerbates racial tensions. The UK is a fundamentally multicultural country and nearly all communities will have undocumented migrants living within them. Many of these migrants have been in the UK for over five years, they may have children and whole families that live here and contribute to society. What’s more, many of those undocumented migrants will have previously had legal status but lost it due to systemic barriers within the Home Office.
Rather than berating migrants themselves, perhaps we should turn our focus towards the Home Office’s methods. Because even if you favour of strong immigration rules, it’s hard to argue that immigration raids are the best way to enforce them.
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