Officers to be given powers of arrest and detention
Alan Travis, home affairs editor
Saturday January 27, 2007
New legislation which will in effect turn the immigration service into a quasi-police force, with powers of arrest and detention for individual officers, was published yesterday by Liam Byrne, the immigration minister.
The borders bill will also make it compulsory for all non-European foreign nationals living in Britain to apply for a biometric identity card, with fines of up to 1,000 if they do not have one.
Every foreign national from outside the European Union living in Britain for more than three months will have to provide electronic fingerprints and a digital photograph for the ID cards, which will be introduced from next year.
More than 400,000 illegal migrants are believed to be living in Britain, who presumably will be identified if they are unable to produce an overseas ID card.
The bill will also clarify the law in the wake of the foreign prisoners fiasco, making it clear that they will face automatic deportation if they have committed an offence that carries at least a 12-month prison sentence. But ministers have had to concede that those facing removal will be able to delay deportation through appeals.
A pilot scheme, under which 80 immigration officers will start wearing uniforms at Heathrow, Stansted and Glasgow airports, started this week.
Mr Byrne said yesterday it was vital that immigration officers had the power to arrest people smugglers or traffickers, even if their crimes were committed outside the UK, and the power to detain at ports those they suspected of committing immigration offences. They will also be given powers to arrest those they suspect of defrauding the asylum welfare support system, and to enter and search their premises and seize property.
Mr Byrne added: “It will help to secure our borders, tackle traffickers and shut down illegal working. It will build on existing legislation and commitments made by John Reid to overhaul our immigration system.”
But Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, said the measures could be racially divisive if they resulted in immigration spot checks on the streets.
The Conservative immigration spokesman, Damien Green, said he was disappointed the scheme did not create a single border control force. He added: “This is the government's sixth immigration bill in 10 years. So there is no reason to believe that John Reid's tough rhetoric will translate into effective action this time.”