In recent years scenes at Kenmure Street, Glasgow, and Peckham have shown shifting public attitudes to hostile environment policies and immigration raids. Raids are a core component of the Home Office’s targeting of immigrants living in the UK. Raid squads are known as Immigration Compliance and Enforcement (ICE) teams, with 19 official squads currently operating.
Home Office figures show that 24,497 people entered immigration detention in 2021. Meanwhile a Huck investigation found that ICE teams carried out approximately 60,599 enforcement visits between 2017 and 2021, but an average of just one in ten appear to be authorised by warrant. In the face of such tactics, communities have responded by building networks of solidarity and resistance. There is a growing awareness of the severe harm caused by violent border and immigration policies, and people are coming together to reject these approaches.
Here’s what you need to know, and how to get involved.
What are immigration raids?
First come dawn raids against residential addresses, to catch people while they’re still sleeping. Later, the squads hit restaurants, shops and factories in “illegal working” raids: there are around 6,000 of these a year, arresting around 5,000 people. Or they join up with police and others in multi-agency operations against public transport, rough sleepers, street markets, and other targets.
Largely based on tip-offs and other “low grade intelligence”, the squads hit easy targets – their great favourite is Indian takeaways. Yet they often come away with few arrests, and many people are released straight away as “not removable”. What the raids do, though, is spread a climate of fear in migrant communities – affecting “legal” as well as “illegal” migrants.
Immigration raids can take place anywhere including train, tube and bus stations, workplaces, universities, shops, restaurants, on the street, and factories in industrial areas (In 2018, a man died after the factory he worked in was targeted). In particular, communities have noticed a shift towards small corner shops with migrant staff or customers, or shops with items from particular cultures.
Freedom of Information requests conducted by the Anti-Raids network highlight a stark disparity between the number of raids conducted by ‘shops’ as opposed to ‘supermarkets’ within boroughs of London, with the London borough of Croydon experiencing 160 immigration raids in shops from 2016-2020, but only 10 in supermarkets. Details from the Home Office’s Operation Centurion also revealed targets including “Vietnamese nail bars in Manchester”, and in 2016, 97 people were arrested after immigration raids took place at nail salons across the country.
A significant portion of raids also take place at people’s homes. Residential streets have less passing footfall, which can mean less support from the wider community for targeted individuals.
ICE teams regularly collaborate with police, council workers and other state representatives. In 2012 Operation Nexus rolled out, placing immigration officers in police stations, followed by Operation Centurion in 2014 which saw a publicised campaign of immigration raids on businesses and homes. During a raid, police may stop anybody else from entering the premises, in an effort to block support for people targeted by raids and prevent the public from giving people legal information.
What is the anti-raids network?
The Anti-Raids Network consists of local anti-raids groups spanning the UK. Haringey Anti-Raids, formed in 2016, is currently the longest-running. While anti-raids groups have become more well-known due to highly publicised blocking of raids, this is usually a final port of call. Before it gets to this point, groups work within local communities. This can look like going to areas where there are frequent raids and talking to undocumented people and migrant communities, making sure they know their rights during a raid, or supporting organisations in the local area that work to help asylum seekers at risk of deportation.
The first component of an anti-raids group is people to organise with. Haringey Anti-Raids put out an open call, organising a public meeting in the form of open ‘Raids Resistance Training’, enabling them to gauge interest in a local anti-raids group. Another option is to start organising via a pre-existing group at first, with the goal of growing beyond this initial core.
The regular work
Many groups start by raising awareness of raids in the area, building links and relationships with people facing raids regularly, and handing out rights information and information on how to challenge raids.
We went to all the shops on the High Street and talked to the shopkeepers and employees. We wanted to establish links with them, to hear what they were already doing about the raids, and to give them information (in English and other languages) that explained both their rights and what they can do when they see a raid happening. These conversations were also important in understanding the impact of the raids: which places were being raided most frequently, what the schedule of the raids was, and how Immigration Enforcement generally operated…
Resistance couldn’t be a service provided by a group of masked-up anarchists. Instead, it had to be the work of establishing a solid relationship between people being raided, and people who wanted to help them.
This information can inform how to reach out to local people: being specific about a problem, particularly who it harms and how, allows you to work with people at risk, understanding their struggles and the support they need. You can make a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to the Home Office to find out where raids are happening in the local area by postcode, or look at Anti-Raids Network interactive guide to see the distribution of raids in London up to 2021.
It’s also important to have an email address or phone number so people can contact the group for help, alert you of a raid, or get involved, and to build an alert system (like a phone tree) so locals can be quickly notified and respond to a raid.
Running a stall
Most anti-raids groups run regular stalls, connecting with the local community and spreading information. Because these stalls don’t sell anything, only provide information, this should be protected under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. That being said, it’s worth being equipped within your group for common arguments that favour borders so you’re prepared to discuss with those who disagree, and are best prepared to respond.
Existing anti-raids groups recommend the following for a stall:
- A table
- Rights cards: with information on how to resist raids, your rights if you’re stopped by ICE, and how to avoid engaging with them. You can contact firstname.lastname@example.org for a selection of languages.
- Leaflets about local raids
- NO CONSENT notices: signs that shopkeepers can put in their shop, withdrawing consent for immigration officers or police to enter the premises without a warrant.
- Bust cards: including numbers for trusted local immigration lawyers, and contact information for Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID) and SOAS Detainee Support. (BID only help people get bail from detention, which is usually not applicable when people are first detained. However, they can also advise people on how to access a solicitor in detention, and inform people of other rights.)
- Anti-Raids emergency cards: cards with a phone number to call in the event of a raid. These cards are given carefully to strategically chosen, trusted people. Giving numbers out widely could result in them falling into the hands of the police or far right.
- Posters: There are multiple options available to download here
- Information for other services: people will come to your stall with problems that anti-raids groups can’t specifically support, such as needing an immigration lawyer, advice on immigration status, or an issue with police. Have information ready about hand about organisations, charities and law firms who can provide help for these cases.
Running workshops is a key way to support communities to build local resistance, especially when run in tandem with organisations such as local migrant centres.
Preexisting anti-raids groups recommend workshops with a collective space for people to share experiences and emotions around raids, a short explanation of key principles around the law and people’s rights, and role-play scenarios, which enable people a forum to practice their English and build confidence.
You can use this publicly accessible slideshow with notes to build your workshop. It’s also important to explain that the law isn’t well developed in this area, leading to grey areas, and that immigration officers often abuse their powers. The only way to reduce raids is to come out in force and show solidarity with people when they are targeted.
Turning up en masse to block raids only works if you know the raid is happening, so being proactive is key. Going to places where people are likely to be targeted, building links, and making sure people already know their rights before anything happens is vital. Officers can’t enter a home or workplace without legal permission (a named warrant, a signed letter by someone in power, or if you’re a licensed premise) so targeted individuals don’t have to let them in, and they aren’t obligated to answer questions (there is a chance that if someone doesn’t answer a question, they will arrest them to try and gather further evidence, but officers have to be fairly motivated to try this). It’s incredibly important to equip people with all information that could protect them before anything happens.
If a raid happens
- Film the Immigration Enforcement officers and police: this puts more pressure on them to not overstep powers, while providing a record of events in case the legality of the raid is challenged later. Don’t film the person being targeted and explain you are on their side and won’t film them.
- Try and talk to the person being questioned: reassure them about who you are and what you’re doing, let them know that officers have very few powers to question or detain and they can refuse to answer questions and walk away. Have the Anti-Raids flyer to hand over and inform people of their rights. Leaving immigration enforcement officers when they’re talking to you can be difficult, so try to walk away with the person being detained, if you can, so they feel supported to leave.
- Interrupt the Immigration Enforcement officers: Let them know what you think of what they’re doing. This makes their job harder while letting others know what’s going on and giving them the confidence to also intervene.
- Alert people: to the raid going on and build support via networks online and through the local community.
- Encourage others to intervene: the more people willing to stand up to officers, the harder it makes their job, meaning that fewer people are likely to be detained or deported. Taking up their time also leaves fewer hours for officers to harass more people, which matters.
- Stage a Protest: you can call an impromptu protest at a raid while it’s happening. Stand in the streets, make noise, talk to people, call trusted friends. All these things can make a raid harder, and make an intervention more successful.
- After the raid: go and talk to local residents, businesses, and shopkeepers. Inform them that a raid has happened (if they didn’t know), hand out information cards on people’s rights during an immigration stop, and encourage them to use the emergency raid alert system. Also supporting people at the targeted location is key, as they may be impacted by what has happened. Give them information on the network and resources for support.
- Anti-Raids network (you can contact to arrange an intervention training day)
- Anti-raids cut out and keep guide
- JCWI toolkit to building resistance to the Hostile Environment
- Haringey Anti-Raids’ zine on how to set up an anti-raids group
- Schools ABC (a boycott of the school census, which creates a hostile environment for migrant children)
- Homes Not Borders, campaigning on legislation requiring landlords and agents to check immigration status of prospective tenants
- Docs Not Cops campaigning against charging migrants who use the NHS and the sharing of patients’ details with the home office.
- NELMA (North East London Migrant Action)
- SOAS Detainee Support
- Haringey Migrant Support Centre
- Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants (LGSM)
- Bail for Immigration Detainees
- The Joint Council for The Welfare of Immigrants
- Right to Remain