Being an immigration officer is more exciting than you'd think

13 September 2015 - 02:00 By Lin Sampson

Lisa Lea is an immigration officer at Heathrow Airport. She starts off with a cosy chattiness. Ah, sir (always sir), you've travelled quite a distance, you must be tired," she says, computing Brazil, South Africa, Asia. Drugs. The more polite Officer Lea gets, the more trouble you're in. Passing through this turf is the bedraggled hem of humanity, people not unfamiliar with recreational drugs, reckless decisions and borderline battles.Officer Lea likes to think the best of people although evidence to the contrary is rife. She often has to say, "I am sorry sir, but I have to send you home on the next plane." Living in a lawless country myself where every law can be broken, it is difficult to take her seriously as she says: "He was allowed to work for 20 months but has overstayed by three months."She is expert at immigration-speak. "Sir, I will just pop you in the holding cell for the night," translates to: "You ain't going anywhere soon." She is a bit podgy and sweats easily, pushing her glasses back onto her face with her middle finger.story_article_left1Many trying to enter Britain illegally are South Africans. One called Dazzle, a Xhosa from Cape Town, makes an immigration officer laugh. "I have never come across such a name," he says. Dazzle lies down on the nearest sofa and goes to sleep. The officer says paternally, "Ah, he is having a little shut-eye before the long journey home."Officer Lea hates lies. "He lied to me," she says disappointedly. Of course they lie. Their stories are byzantine. A Pakistani national says: "I smite my parents." A Nigerian who looks about 35 insists he is 15. A breker from Joburg says: "I bloody well will smoke." Officer Lea smiles: "I'll just pop these on." Difficult to light a cigarette with hands handcuffed behind your back. A man from Mumbai going as a tourist says he has come to see "Birmingham Palace".A Turk dressed in Burberry from top to toe arrives with a sealed letter for the queen but without a visa. Officer Lea rings Buckingham Palace - their contacts are awesome - and finds that they are expecting a man from Turkey to deliver a letter. "So much more personal, don't you think?" says the man.I am traumatised by these UK Border Agency tapes on YouTube because once I, too, was an illegal entrant into Britain. I was born in Sri Lanka. Neither of my parents was British. I was travelling on a French passport that had a Russian (then the Soviet Union) visa in it. "Now madam, come along with me." I was shunted off into a side room. It was like having the washing-up done inside me. I now know that they were checking out all my letters from schools and universities, ringing up a friend and saying: "Are you expecting a guest today?"Officer Lea asks a bolshy transsexual in a puce onesie and heroic earrings, "So what will you be doing in Britain, madam?" He replies: "I'll do a bit of coke, then maybe some heroin, and I will open a brothel and you, officer, will be working for me." Officer Lea pretends to be shocked but you can see by her blush that she is secretly pleased. She takes him right down to the arrivals lounge to meet his friend. "Sometimes things really do go well," she says happily...

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