The government’s pursuit of people without identity papers has made the immigrant community fearful going to work. They do not know that they can refuse to show papers.
At the entrance to one of the London Tube lines, police from the Home Office are asking for documentation from people whose dress or nationality suggest they are immigrants. Meanwhile, hundreds of people are patrolling the route to work.
This same scene can be seen at concerts and at places frequented by the immigrant community. Also at untimely hours when cleaning workers, most of them immigrants, are going to work.
“It is also very common to do it at dawn, when the cleaners leave for work”, explains María Pérez, a member of Anti Raids Network.
That is what happened 7th February on Old Kent Road. Ready, the activists rushed to the area and handed out information leaflets about how to behave if you are present at or involved in a raid.
The said instructions focus on explaining that “no-one is obliged to respond to the UKBA [UK Border Agency]” and emphasise the importance by which immigrants “stay calm and do not give in to fear”.
That naturalness is essential since insecurity and evasive behaviour can raise suspicions among immigrants and be caught by agents to take them to a deportation centre.
That action [handing out leaflets] was accompanied by a demonstration under the slogan “we are not illegal… respect our people”. In it, tens of people demonstrated to ask for greater respect for immigrant rights.
According to María Pérez, officials are not allowed to ask for papers because the law does not state that it is compulsory to take them. Based on that the organisation explains that if someone is asked, they should say respectfully: why are you stopping me? Or, why do you wish to speak to me?
About that random and indiscriminate “hunt” Pérez emphasises that “ it is a huge mistake to control people” and proclaims that “racism should not be the way to behave”.
That is why she maintains that “in 50 years we will see these raids as a genuine atrocity against immigrants”.
Members of the organisation examine the problems of those actions in depth explaining that “many people, with or without papers, are afraid to go to work in case they are involved in that situation”.
However, they also remark on the “solidarity” that has generated support for these people who “leave their lives in their countries for the sake of a better future” and are seen as obliged to “work in a very precarious way”.
On the other hand, they remark that if an identified police officer detains someone to carry out a search they must follow all the instructions. “Usually they happen for security reasons”, Pérez stresses.
However, not all raids are done illegally. Some of them happen as part of an investigation initiated by “tip-offs” or working irregularities.
According to what the activists describe, rivalries or personal problems can lead to a reported complaint by someone. “The Home Office goes to the house of the person in question and asks for the necessary documentation to verify the complaint”, explains Pérez.
Having a full name does not offer protection from the law and you must act on police orders. “The problem is that, alongside the individual, the police investigate the family and those who share the accommodation”, she laments.
Another approach is to target the workplace. This happens when there are signs that staff members are working illegally. Armed with that information the Home Office goes to the workplace and checks the truth in that accusation.
“It is true that no-one should work without papers but everyone has the right to work”, Pérez maintains.
Also, she defends that “immigrants bring culture but also help the country’s economy” and states bluntly “the majority do lowly paid work and work that no-one wants to do”.
The activist emphasises that new legal measures and austerity cuts mean people have “more economic problems” and obtaining papers is becoming “more and more difficult”.
She corroborates this explaining that, regardless of the economic importance of the visa, you are now required to spend a minimum of 20 years in the UK so that “people are living with the hell of illegality for longer”, she complains.
Also, since the crisis began many immigrants have decided to return home. “They are unable to put up with precariousness and decide to return home”, she says.
It has also produced a second wave of emigration: “many people who emigrated to Spain years ago have come to London to look for new opportunities”, she comments.
That is why the organisation defends “the right to mobility” and is against these police actions.
(Translated by Claire Donneky – Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)