The Home Office is regularly attending local authority meetings with vulnerable migrant families to help collect data that can be used to remove the families from the UK.
The practice has been revealed by a Freedom of Information request by Project 17, an organisation working to end destitution amongst migrant children.
The request highlights how the Home Office has embedded immigration officers in local authority interviews with migrant families in ten London councils – Hackney, Haringey, Southwark, Greenwich, Enfield, Barking and Dagenham, Lewisham, Harrow, Croydon and Bexley.
Are the Rights of Vulnerable Children Being Breached?
Campaigners argue that immigration officers working closely with local councils could deter at-risk families and children from seeking help.
The provision of services for children in need (section 17) of the Children’s Act 1989 means that local authorities have a duty to safeguard their welfare – whether or not the child’s family has leave to remain in the UK.
Project 17 notes, “This duty exists even if the family has no right to work, no access to welfare benefits and social housing and no leave to remain in the UK.”
There are fears that the presence of immigration officers in sensitive interviews with families could breach the rights of children. The practice of embedding officers also raises serious issues around data and privacy.
There is no way a vulnerable woman who comes to a council should have their immigration status have anything to do with their case.
-Labour MP Jess Phillips
Jennifer Ang, a human rights lawyer at JustRight Scotland, told the Guardian, “Local authorities have a clear obligation to safeguard the welfare of children. That support is a right, and we are concerned that families are afraid to access that right because of data-sharing with the Home Office.”
Chai Patel, legal policy director at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said to the Guardian: “Section 17 support is designed to ensure that children and their families are not left destitute, homeless or starving. For the Home Office to use it to gather personal data on those families for immigration enforcement purposes is a gross perversion of the purpose of the law.”
The Labour MP Jess Phillips said: “There is no way a vulnerable woman who comes to a council should have their immigration status have anything to do with their case for safety for them and their children – that is totally unacceptable.”
Children in Need ‘Being Threatened with Deportation’
Local councils are working with embedded Home Office #HostileEnvironment enforcers. Families and children in need of support are being threatened with deportation. They don't need to do this. We have to make this stophttps://t.co/Fl7Hzc8pSp
— Right to Remain (@Right_to_Remain) October 29, 2018
Right to Remain, said, “Local councils are working with embedded Home Office hostile environment enforcers. Families and children in need of support are being threatened with deportation. They don’t need to do this. We have to make this stop.”
Councils must inform the Home Office in cases where an applicant for support is in the UK without the requisite permissions and visas.
Following pressure from campaigners, last year Haringey council decided to end the practice. More recently, Lewisham council has insisted its Home Office immigration official will no longer have direct contact with families.
Last year, local authorities came under fire for providing information about rough sleepers to the Home Office, leading to some individuals being removed from the country.
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