Charities and Border Force staff have criticised the home secretary over the move, which would allow the use of “reasonable force” in obtaining prints in Calais and Dunkirk as part of efforts to make it easier to remove people who then cross the Channel.
The same measure was abandoned nine years ago after angry clashes with officers, and after some refugees slashed or burned their own fingertips to prevent the evidence being taken.
Despite that, the Commons is poised to vote through a return of the policy in the next few weeks, in order to provide what the Home Office claims is “crucial” evidence in rejecting an asylum claim.
Under the EU’s Dublin Regulation, France would previously have accepted responsibility for people who were on its “safe” territory first, but Brexit has ended that agreement – with no sign of it being renegotiated.
Lucy Moreton, of the Immigration Services Union, which represents border officials, said Theresa May had introduced forced fingerprinting as home secretary in 2012, but it was abandoned after just a few weeks because of a “public backlash”.
“There was a spate of individuals who self-mutilated in order not to give their fingerprints, either cutting or even burning their fingertips,” she told The Independent.
“It was horrible, so we do not want to see a repeat of that. And of course, if you force people to give fingerprints in that way, they are going to fight back.”
Josie Naughton, co-founder of the refugees’ charity Choose Love, said: “The home secretary’s desire to forcibly take fingerprints is deeply problematic.
“Not only would the move put her government in a deeply murky position from a legal standpoint, but fingerprinting has led to serious violence affecting asylum seekers in the past.
“We see no reason why things would be different this time around. The Border Force union is against this.”
Clare Moseley, the founder of the Care4Calais group, said: “Many concerns are raised by the suggestion of forcibly fingerprinting vulnerable asylum seekers, not least the risk of retraumatising them.
“Victims of conflict and persecution should be treated with dignity and compassion. Placing them in highly stressful situations will only make this less likely to be achieved.”
A proposed change to the law – allowing the use of reasonable force to take prints as vehicles are searched at “juxtaposed controls” in the ports – will go before MPs in the coming weeks.
The Independent understands that the UK urged France to adopt the measure as well, but was rebuffed in last year’s talks aimed at cutting the surge in small boats making the dangerous crossing.
However, both sides accept that the UK has the legal power to act at its checkpoints, under bilateral treaties dating back 30 years, because fingerprinting by force is legal in this country.
Chris Philp, the minister for immigration control, rejected the warning over the use of force in taking fingerprints, saying: “We don’t agree with this claim. Trained Border Force officers would always first seek compliance by engaging with the individual, explaining the requirement to comply and encouraging the individual to do so.
“Reasonable force would only be used as a last resort, where an individual repeatedly refuses to comply.”
Ms Patel is expected to publish detailed plans this month for a further crackdown on Channel crossings, after reportedly telling MPs that illegal crossings have “plagued” governments for decades.
The expected Sovereign Borders Bill is likely to impose curbs on allegedly “litigious” claims – brought by asylum claimants fighting deportation – under human rights laws.
When considering appeals against deportation, judges would be told to place more weight on the criminal records of those seeking refugee status.
Those bringing claims would be required to bring forward all their grounds for appeal at the start of the process – after Ms Patel protested over successful last-ditch appeals.