A short-notice inspection of the UK Border Agency in Croydon has found operations to arrest suspected illegal immigrants are being delayed because of a lack of detention space.
When John Vine, independent chief inspector of the UK Border Agency (UKBA) and his team visited last February, they found four of the six operations planned by the agency’s 53 arrest teams had been put on hold.
Mr Vine, whose team had given just 24 hours notice prior to the inspection, said: “The remaining four operations were due to be re-scheduled when detention space became available.”
“However, as intelligence reports are only valid for a period of three weeks, according to agency guidance, there is a risk that this period might be exceeded.
“In addition, the efficiency of the team can be compromised when four arrest team visits are cancelled.”
The visit also revealed “significant non-compliance with the agency’s own policy and guidance”, both in the briefing before the visit and during the operation, Mr Vine said.
The subsequent report said intelligence checks were carried out two months before operations and it was unclear whether they had been re-checked since.
“This lack of a clear audit trail presents an obvious risk; for example, if a person had become known to police after the previous checks, the agency may not be aware of this,” Mr Vine said.
“The risks to staff and members of the public of such an oversight are potentially considerable.”
One arrest briefing failed to note that a potential target was four months pregnant, inspectors found. Other briefings, containing personal and sensitive information, were carried out in the street.
A second report into the UKBA found it failed to keep track of how it deals with immigration offences flagged-up by tip-offs from the public.
Mr Vine said it was unacceptable that despite receiving more than 100,000 allegations every year from members of the public, the agency was “unable to identify the proportion of allegations that had resulted in people being prevented from entering the UK, or which had led to enforcement action against people living or working illegally in the UK”.
Mr Vine also reported a lack of clarity in whether or not the UKBA “could or should be intelligence led”.
He said: “The agency should have a clearer idea of how the use of intelligence contributes to preventing and detecting immigration and customs offences.”
Immigration minister Damian Green said:
“Enforcement activity is the cornerstone of our new immigration system and our intelligence-led approach means we are working smarter; focusing resources where they matter the most.
He added: “We have already launched two nationwide campaigns to close bogus colleges, tackle illegal working and reduce sham marriages.
The minister argued that success could be measured by the fact that in using intelligence from a variety of sources, including members of the public, the agency had carried out 1,400 arrests, 330 prosecutions and 260 removals.
He insisted: “Let the message be clear, the UK is no longer an easy touch for illegal immigrants.”
Mr Vine said a second short-notice inspection into the arrest team would take place in the next six months.