By Ian Dunt
The Home Office is facing complaints of racism and contempt of court, following a heavy-handed online and street-by-street immigration crackdown.
Just months after Theresa May took personal control over the department, it is conducting spot checks on people's immigration status at London Tube stations and posting details of raids online.
Onlookers at the spot checks say UK Border Agency (UKBA) officers were only stopping ethnic minorities and no white people, leading to charges of racial profiling.
The online move has been just as controversial, with the tweets and website reports seemingly conflating the terms 'suspects' and 'offenders'.
"For the @ukhomeoffice to say those arrested are already #immigrationoffenders is to prejudge their cases and possibly contempt," legal analyst David Allen Green tweeted.
Heavily pixelated images of raids in London, Durham, Manchester, Somerset and Wales have been posted by the Home Office, allegedly of people working illegally in the UK.
The tweets held the hashtag #immigrationoffenders, even though most of posts said the individuals were suspects.
One post, which said 139 people had been arrested on Thursday, linked to a page on a government website headlined: 'Immigration offenders arrested in Home Office operations'.
The individuals are repeatedly called offenders on the page, before later being referred to as 'suspected immigration offenders'.
Meanwhile, more details are emerging of UKBA spot checks at various tube stations in London, including the suburbs of Walthamstow, Kensal Green, Stratford and Cricklewood.
Officers in stab vests were said by onlookers to only be speaking to non-white commuters and to have reacted aggressively to any effort to question what they were doing.
It is understood to be the first instance of random searches of immigration status on British streets.
UKBA officials are forbidden from conducting speculative checks on people's immigration status.
"We do not yet live in a society where the police or any other officers of the law are entitled to detain people without reasonable justification and demand their papers," Labour MP Barry Gardiner wrote to the home secretary.
"The actions of your department would however appear to be hastening us in that direction."
The spot checks come just a week after the end of the pilot of the so-called 'racist vans' – mobile billboards telling illegal immigrants to "go home".
The use of the phrase "go home" had strong echoes of the phrase commonly heard by many newly-arrived immigrants to Britain and was interpreted by many as dog-whistle politics designed to appeal to those on the far-right.
The adverts are subject to a legal challenge and have been reported to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) by a Labour peer.
Muhammed Butt, leader of Brent Council, told the Independent the vans and spot-checks were probably connected.
"It leaves a very nasty taste in the mouth," he said.
"These so-called spot checks are not only intimidating but they are also racist and divisive.
"It appears from speaking to people who witnessed what happened in Kensal Green that it was only black and Asian-looking people who were asked to prove their identity. What about the white Australians and New Zealanders who may have overstayed their visas?"
Shadow immigration minister Chris Bryant warned that the government must avoid racial profiling.
"Intelligence-led operations to tackle illegal immigration are right. Racial profiling is not," he said.
The Home Office said in a statement: “We make no apology for enforcing our immigration laws and our officers carry out hundreds of operations every year around London. Where we find people who are in the UK illegally we will seek to remove them.
"We take any allegations of inappropriate behaviour from our officers very seriously and operate a comprehensive complaints and investigation process for where detainees or members of the public believe they have been mistreated."
By Ian Dunt