London: A new spot check crackdown against illegal immigrants in the UK has raised fears that it could "incite racial tensions", a day after 139 people were arrested across the country.
The UK Border Agency enforcement teams yesterday arrested as many as 139 suspected immigration offenders across the country as part of a clamp down on people working illegally. However, the actions have raised fears of racial profiling if the drive was found to be targeting mainly non-whites and ethnic minority communities.
Dave Garratt, the chief executive of charity Refugee Action, warned that the operations could "incite racial tensions". "Over the last few weeks we've seen some very visible signs of the government's 'hostile environment' crusade. There have been vans out on the streets with threatening slogans and, reportedly, non-white people being visibly stopped and searched," he said.
Barry Gardiner, an Opposition Labour MP for Brent North in London, has written to Home Secretary Theresa May following reports of spot checks in London, which he said violated "fundamental freedoms".
"We do not yet live in a society where the police or any other officers of the law are entitled to detain people without reasonable justification and demand their papers. The actions of your department would however appear to be hastening us in that direction," he wrote.
"Intelligence-led operations to remove illegal immigrants are to be welcomed. Racial profiling is not," shadow immigration minister Chris Bryant said, calling on the Home Office to assure that no racial profiling was involved.
However, the Home Office has said it makes "no apology" for its actions. "We make no apology for enforcing our immigration laws and our officers carry out hundreds of operations like this every year around London. Where we find people who are in the UK illegally we will seek to remove them," a spokesperson said.
"Immigration enforcement officers conducted an operation... based on intelligence, where they questioned individuals to check if they had the right to be in the UK," he added.
Yesterday's operation, which was spread across London, Durham and Manchester, follows a controversial Home Office advertising campaign telling illegal immigrants to "go home".
Immigration Minister Mark Harper said: "Yesterday's operations highlight the routine work we are carrying out every day to stamp out illegal working. We are sending a clear message to employers who choose to use illegal labour – we will find you and you will pay a heavy penalty.
"Illegal working undercuts legitimate businesses and is often linked to exploitative behaviour such as tax evasion and harmful working conditions. We will not allow the growth of a shadow economy for illegal migrants."
Meanwhile, UK's equality watchdog said it is investigating immigration spot checks across the country for possible unlawful discrimination. The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said it "will be examining the powers used and the justification for them, in order to assess whether unlawful discrimination took place."
BBC, quoting an EHRC spokesman, reported the watchdog was writing to the Home Office about the checks at transport hubs. The spokesman said it would also "ask questions about the extent to which the Home Office complied with its public sector equality duty" when vans were sent around London encouraging illegal immigrants to "go home".