Yesterday, Australia's immigration police announced that they would be stopping people at random on the streets of Melbourne and asking for proof of their visa status. Less than 24 hours later the plan, "Operation Fortitude," was canceled after Australians reacted with disbelief, anger, and ridicule.
The initial announcement came from Australia's new federal immigration police, the Australian Border Force, set up by Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott in July to be an integrated customs and immigration law enforcement force. But as the ABC notes, "ABF officers have substantially greater powers than either Customs or Immigration officials. They carry guns, gather intelligence and have the power to detain offenders."
“ABF officers will be positioned at various locations around the CBD speaking with any individual we cross paths with,” said Don Smith, the ABF's regional Commander for Victoria and Tasmania, in a statement announcing the weekend operation. “You need to be aware of the conditions of your visa; if you commit visa fraud you should know it’s only a matter of time before you’re caught out."
Soon after the announcement, activists organized a protest in Melbourne's city center:
And the backlash online continued, with some posting with the tag #borderfarce:
“Either the Border Force are doing racial profiling, in which case they should stop it, or they are hassling everyone, and they should stop that as well,” Liberal Democrat Senator David Leyonhjelm told News.com.au. "We do not need any more uniformed goons."
This afternoon, Victoria Police put out a statement canceling the operation:
"We understand there has been a high level of community interest and concern which has been taken into consideration when making this decision. Victoria Police's priority is the safety and wellbeing of the whole community and we will continue to work with our partner agencies to achieve this," the statement read.