Every police force has shared data with Immigration Enforcement but no action was taken that would justify the practice
A new report published last week by the independent Domestic Abuse Commissioner has revealed that every single police force in England and Wales has shared the data of a victim of domestic abuse with Immigration Enforcement over a three-year period from April 2020 to March 2023.
You can download the 10-page report here.
The Domestic Abuse Commissioner, Nicole Jacobs, has long called for a firewall to be established to prevent police from sharing data on victims of crime with Immigration Enforcement. The Commissioner says fear of being reported to immigration authorities prevents victims of domestic violence with insecure immigration status from reporting abuse.
In her latest report, Jacobs stated: "This practice leaves migrant victims and survivors with no safe place in the country to report domestic abuse without the fear that their data may be shared with the Home Office. The evidence – obtained from the Home Office – shows that the data of 537 victims was shared with Immigration Enforcement. While some forces shared the data of just a handful of victims – even one victim's data being shared is enough to deter others from ever reporting to the police and other public services."
As the report explains, many perpetrators of domestic violence exploit their victim's fear of reporting through a form of coercive and controlling behaviour known as immigration abuse. The Commissioner's important 2021 report recognised 'immigration abuse' as a particular form of abuse. Perpetrators, for example, use threats of deportation and separation from children to prevent their victims from going to the police. One women's organisation found that over 90 percent of women with insecure immigration status who experienced domestic abuse had their abusers use the threat of their removal from the UK to dissuade them from reporting the abuse.
The Commissioner finds in her new report that the fear instilled in victims is entirely unjustified, as no immigration enforcement action was taken against any of the 537 victims whose data was shared between 2020 and 2023.
Nicole Jacobs said: "The high cost to both personal and public safety of inciting further fear and disincentivizing victims from reporting crime resulted in no enforcement action that might be considered to justify the sharing of information. Of the immigration status check referrals made by police where the Immigration Enforcement [National Command and Control Unit] had reached an outcome in the 3 years to March 2023, no victims or witnesses were detained or removed from the UK. This means that Home Office processes indicated that neither detention nor removal were necessary for the maintenance of public safety or upholding of immigration law."
In her new report, Jacobs calls for an amendment to be made to the current Victims and Prisoners Bill, and she sets out why this is necessary.
The proposed amendment would institute a ban on statutory services (including the police, health services, and social care) from sharing the data of a victim or witness of specific crimes with the Home Office without their consent. Jacobs says such a ban would increase victims' confidence in reporting and provide statutory services with the intelligence and clarity needed to protect not only the victim but also the wider public, without any significant impact on the wider work of Immigration Enforcement.
The report notes: "With the knowledge that their personal data would not be shared with Immigration Enforcement, migrant victims and survivors would feel safer to report crime. Furthermore, by feeling safe to report or disclose at any point, victims and survivors could be risk assessed and supported at an earlier stage, therefore protecting them from future abuse and potentially even saving their life. By being put in touch with specialist services, they would garner the additional benefit of receiving support to know and, if needed, regularise their immigration status without the risk of facing immigration action from the very agency which claims to be safeguarding them."
A firewall would also improve chances for crimes to be both reported and sufficiently investigated, which would increase the likelihood of perpetrators being caught sooner and being brought to justice, and thus would be of significant benefit to public safety.
As an interim measure ahead of a full ban, the Commissioner calls for the police to immediately stop sharing the data of victims of domestic abuse with Immigration Enforcement.
Nicole Jacobs said: "At the point when victims have come to the police for safety from abuse, they are met with what many fear most: contact with immigration enforcement. Migrant victims have told me that this plays into the perpetrator's tactics of control. This data show there is not a single police force where migrant victims are treated as victims first and foremost. This must change now. Only with the introduction of a Firewall can the Victims and Prisoners Bill ensure justice and protection for all, not just some, victims."
The Domestic Abuse Commissioner also sent a letter to the Home Secretary urging the Government to take real action to support its position that victims should be treated as victims first and foremost, regardless of their immigration status.
In July of this year, however, the Home Office rejected the Commissioner's earlier call for a firewall between immigration enforcement and public services. The Home Office said that restrictions on data sharing between public services and immigration authorities could lead to delays in migrant victims being able to access vital information about their immigration status, which may prolong their uncertainty and increase their vulnerability.