LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Britain’s leading Catholic refugee agency is expressing concern over a government plan to deport around 50 people to Jamaica, even though many of them were either born in the UK or brought to the country as young children.
The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) UK pointed to the fact that a mobile phone signal outage at the main immigration detention center has kept many of the deportees from contacting their lawyers.
“In order to allow adequate access to legal advice the use of mobile phones within detention is vitally important. Furthermore, those in detention depend on their mobile phones as the sole way of maintaining contact with families, friends and communities on whom they rely for emotional support. Through our weekly drop-in service, we have seen how the continued, wide-spread loss of phone signal has compounded the anxiety, stress and frustration felt by many,” said William Neal, JRS UK’s detention outreach officer.
The government said all those scheduled to be deported on Feb. 11 are convicted criminals who have served their time in UK jails, but critics argue it is unfair to send them to countries they left as young children.
The deportation is happening as the government is preparing the Windrush Lessons Learned review, in response to the Windrush scandal two years ago.
In 1971, immigrants mostly from the Caribbean were given “indefinite leave to remain,” which roughly corresponds to having a U.S. green card.
(This status was also based on the immigrants being citizens of the Commonwealth, the international organization headed by Queen Elizabeth II mostly made up of the countries of the former British Empire.)
However, many of these immigrants were never given any official paperwork, and those who came as children usually arrived on their parents’ passports. In 2010, the “landing cards” – which were filled in when the Windrush generation first arrived in the country – were destroyed, leaving no records of their entry into the country.
These immigrants were often called the “Windrush generation,” named for the ship which carried the first large contingent of Caribbean immigrants to the UK in 1948.
In 2016, the government began a new program to deport people who could not prove they were in the country legally, which threatened the estimated 60,000 Commonwealth immigrants from before 1971. Many suddenly couldn’t get public benefits, were dismissed from their jobs, and even told by the government they were going to be deported.
The scandal led to the resignation of Amber Rudd, the head of the UK Home Office (which combines the roles of the U.S. Departments of Justice and Homeland Security.)
According to a leak of the Windrush Lessons Learned review, some of those scheduled to be deported on Feb. 11 would be able to stay in the country if the government followed the review’s recommended actions, including “ending all deportation of foreign national offenders where they arrived in the UK as children.”
“This draft report is very embarrassing and shaming for the government,” said Diane Abbott, a Labour Party member of Parliament.
“Campaigners have said for years that it is unfair to deport people who came here as children and really don’t know any other country, and now this report confirms that,” she told the BBC.
“We will be pressing the government to release this report as soon as possible. You shouldn’t be deporting people who have never known another country,” Abbott said.
Sarah Teather, the Director of JRS UK, said no one should face forced removal without having had the opportunity to obtain legal advice.
“The routine deportation of people who know no other home than Britain tears apart families and communities and once again demonstrates a failure to look at human persons when implementing immigration control. The scheduled flight is further proof of the need for a more person-centered approach to immigration,” she said.
According to JRS UK, at least 5 people had been killed after being forced to return to Jamaica since the exposure of the ‘Windrush’ scandal.
The Catholic agency said some of the deportation flights are understood to be categorized by the Home Office as “foreign national offenders.”
“This occurs in a context where immigration infractions are increasingly criminalized under the hostile environment. For example, the Immigration Act 2016 introduced a distinct criminal offence of working without permission to do so. Asylum seekers and other migrants can thus be criminalized for actions that would be legal for a British citizen. Furthermore, recent research has highlighted that many classed as ‘foreign national offenders’ have spent their whole lives in Britain,” JRS UK said in a statement.
The “hostile environment” refers to the 2010 Conservative party pledge to cut immigration to the UK to “the tens of thousands,” a target many experts saw as impractical.
Since that time, the government has made it more difficult for all sorts of immigrants to come to the country, including spouses of British citizens, students, and academic appointments.
They have also tightened up on the procedures for asylum seekers to prove their refugee status.
Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome
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