Posted on February 15, 2005

Immigration Checks on Tube Passengers Banned

Ben Leapman, Evening Standard (London), Feb. 15

Random immigration checks on Tube passengers have been banned by Underground chiefs after they were exposed by the Evening Standard.

We revealed how dozens of police and immigration officers at a time swooped on stations and asked foreign-sounding commuters to justify their presence in Britain.

And after we uncovered the practice last summer, unhappy Tube chiefs have told the Home Office and police that their officers will no longer be allowed to carry out the raids.

The sides are still in talks but already the number of operations has been cut and the Immigration Service has agreed to curb the way its officers work.

Crucially, under the new rules only people suspected of being faredodgers, drug-dealers or other lawbreakers may be quizzed on their immigration status.

Passengers who follow the rules cannot be questioned.

A London Underground spokesman said: “We have established a protocol that no random checks should happen. As a result, the Immigration Service only work with police as part of preplanned, intelligence-led operations.

“In practice this means that there will be limited occasions when these operations occur on Transport for London property. No law-abiding passengers will be stopped.”

British Transport Police assistant chief constable Paul Robb said: “Because it can be perceived as a very sensitive issue, we have been working with Transport for London to write a protocol for how we will operate on the Underground. As a result we have not done as many operations as was the case previously.”

Critics had claimed the raids were unfairly targeting black and Asian Londoners. Unlike police, the Immigration Service does not disclose figures on how many of the people it stops are from ethnic minorities.

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Mark Oaten said: “The decision to ban these operations is a victory for civil liberties and the Standard is to be congratulated.

“Black and Asian people have every right to go about their business on the Underground without being stopped on suspicion of being an illegal immigrant.

“Trawling public places for failed asylum seekers is no substitute for having a proper system of deportation.”

The BTP said it had carried out around 80 joint operations with immigration officers in London since last April, a rate of two per week, in an initiative called Operation Donate.

Raids were evenly split between Tube and mainline railway stations.

In one operation, at Harrow-on-the-Hill last August, some people getting off trains were stopped by officers dressed in body armour and carrying handcuffs.

Despite the curbs on Tube raids, the Immigration Service has stepped up its enforcement campaign across London including raids on workplaces employing illegal migrants.