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Last Updated: Friday, 26 January 2007, 16:38 GMT
Plans for tougher border controls
An immigration worker
Immigration officers are poised to get new powers
Tougher powers for immigration officers and compulsory identity cards for non-EU nationals form part of government plans unveiled earlier.

The Borders Bill, the fifth on immigration in eight years, will make deportation of some foreign prisoners automatic once their sentence ends.

It will also make ID cards compulsory for foreign nationals.

Immigration minister Liam Byrne denied the bill was a "knee-jerk" response to last year's foreign prisoner scandal.

He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "This has been a very, very carefully constructed piece of legislation.

"What it allows us to do is presume that somebody will be automatically deported if they have committed a certain kind of offence.

I am going to increase the sanctions for businesses who break the rules and employ people illegally
Liam Byrne
Immigration minister

"What that allows the Immigration Service to do is start working much, much earlier on an individual's case, safe in the knowledge of what the outcome is likely to be."

The Immigration and Nationality Directorate had been taking too long to work through cases, often having to detain people under immigration law after they had served their sentence, said Mr Byrne.

"[Under this bill] we can start clearing away obstacles much earlier in the prisoner's sentences to increase the chances of deportation," he told a Home Office press briefing.

Foreign criminals who would come under the new law must have been imprisoned for at least 12 months, have committed an immigration or asylum offence and be recommended by a court or the home secretary for deportation.

Mr Byrne said if an appeal against conviction was made during the sentence, then a deportation order could not be made, but if it was made after the person had served their sentence then they would have to appeal from abroad.

Appeals against deportation on human rights or asylum grounds would be dealt with in the UK.

Illegal immigrants

Mr Byrne defended proposals for new identity documents for foreign nationals.

"At the moment, there are up to 60 different documents which someone can show to prove their entitlement to be in Britain. That is much too complicated.

"This year, I am going to increase the sanctions for businesses who break the rules and employ people illegally.

"I think the very least I can do is make life easier for those businesses by giving them a failsafe, easy method to check whether people are here legally and whether they are who they say they are."

There may be a case for adding some new powers to the statute book, but questions remain as to why existing powers are being so poorly enforced
Nick Clegg
Liberal Democrat

The government says the ID cards scheme, which would require biometric data such as fingerprints and digital photographs, would make it easier to distinguish between illegal and legal immigrants.

This was welcomed by the business group CBI as a way of simplifying the current system of checks, but warned that enforcement should be carried out by expert immigration officers rather than placing the burden on employers.

The legislation will not see the creation of a new border police force, which the Conservatives had been demanding.

But it will give immigration officers new powers of arrest for a range of offences, including more powers to detain and prosecute suspected organisers of people-trafficking.

Shadow immigration minister Damian Green said he doubted this bill would be effective, given that there have been so many immigration bill in the last decade.

"It is not the intentions of the Home Office that matter, it is the ministers of the Home Office and how effective they are that matter. Their record speaks for themselves."

The Liberal Democrat also raised doubts over its effectiveness, with home affairs spokesman Nick Clegg saying "administrative incompetence" needed to be tackled before more legislation was introduced.

Human rights

"There may be a case for adding some new powers to the statute book, but questions remain as to why existing powers - notably against unscrupulous employers of illegal workers - are being so poorly enforced."

The government says its long-term aim is to be able to identify everyone entering and leaving Britain, and to limit illegal working.

But immigration lawyers and human rights groups expressed concern that the Home Office already had enough power to deal with illegal immigration, but it was failing to do so.

Shami Chakrabarti, of human rights group Liberty, said the law could prove to be "racially divisive" if it resulted in immigration spot-checks on Britain's streets.

Last year David Roberts, of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate, said he did not have the "faintest idea" how many illegal immigrants there were in the UK. Some estimates put the number at about 400,000.

Former Home Secretary Charles Clarke lost his job last year when it emerged more than 1,000 foreign prisoners had been released, having not been considered for deportation.

Immigration officials on duty at Heathrow Airport

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29 Nov 06 |  UK Politics

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