Visa Checks in Tube Stations – and They’re Not New #UKBA
August 3, 2013 in Immigration
By Kiri Kahkhwende
Spot immigration checks on public transport are in the headlines now – its news now, but it’s certainly not new. An exclusive report by the Independent calls it “the new stop and search”. Londoners have been tweeting eyewitness reports of predominantly black people being stopped at tube stations in places like Walthamstow and Stratford. One incident at Kensal Green tube station was witnessed by a reporter for the New Statesman, who duly reported on it.
However, anecdotal reports from people living in West and North London suggest that these spot immigration checks have been going on since at least 2008. This would appear to be backed up by an episode from the first season of Sky’s UK Border Force programme, made in 2008, which shows, in the first six minutes, a team from UK Border Force stopping a black man at North Greenwich station and later arresting him when he tries to flee. They do not specify how they know that someone is an illegal immigrant; the officer states only that they are looking for “anyone suspected of committing immigration offences.” An African man who challenges the officers (“Go and control your borders, not the station!”) is also stopped.
He has a point. Random checks at tube stations are not an effective border control solution. It is inconsistent and serves only one purpose; PR. Like the ‘racist van’, it is a publicity stunt aimed at reassuring the British public that the government is doing something about illegal immigration and but the effects of these stunts are felt disproportionately by people of colour.
You can’t tell someone’s immigration status just by looking at them. Notably, these checks have not extended to Clapham or Earl’s Court, where high numbers of Australians and New Zealanders live. Instead, the checks are happening – and have been happening for years – in mixed areas of London, in tube stations and on buses. The ‘racist van’ controversy has brought this into the public domain but racial profiling is rife in areas of London outside of the media gaze. The only difference now is that we’re more aware of it.
This is the new stop and search. And like stop and search, its benefits are disputed but its damage to community relations is undeniable. The assumption underlying this is that only white people are British. Those defending tough policing aren’t just overlooking their prejudices about race and Britishness, they are denying the historic resonance of black people arbitrarily being asked to justify their right to belong.
Know your rights. There is a growing abundance of information about what to do in case you are stopped, the responsibilities of the officer involved and how you should respond. This infographic is a handy tool – print it off, carry it with you, share it. For an in-depth analysis of your rights and the UK Border Agency’s (UKBA) own rules on the checks, read Ian Dunt’s article on politics.co.uk on the high standard which officers have to meet to make a spot immigration check. Even if you’re not stopped, you can help someone else: Record everything. You can also inform the person of their rights.
And if you’re stopped, remember: “It is illegal for an officer to conduct a speculative check on your immigration status. If you are a commuter simply going to the Tube station, you do not satisfy this standard. Demand to know why you are being questioned. If you do not receive a decent answer, inform the officer of your rights and walk away. You can walk away, because this is a free country.”