This morning my email inbox was bombarded by a range of news stories about deportation, detention and the Devil: the Home Office. From government “cover-up” attempts to unfair detention and deportations. It was as if the UK had descended into a new depth of justice depravity overnight.
The narrative appeared clear: a woman was facing deportation and leaving her sick child behind, even though she had lived here for 25 years. Moreover, the government was hiding the news by talking about the Budget. It seemed that once again we were seeing a grave injustice being played out.
I have recently written a blog questioning the lack of compassion being shown to another woman who faces deportation (Deportation of Compassion) despite having been in the UK for a similar amount of time. I was brought to task by a reader over the media presentation of that news story, and the fact that the “children” were in fact adults. He made a good point. Although I still stand by what I said, I also feel that if only for the point of veracity and objectivity – and a sprinkling of impartiality – I shall approach today’s stories from a different light. Not to appease the reader, but just to offer balance to the issues.
Detention and Deportation: Prisons of Compassion
Firstly, the notion that the government tried to distract us from the issues of immigration by talking about the budget is in many respects utter nonsense. The budget is a highly pressing matter for us all, and especially as we run up to Article 50 and Brexit. So as negative as I might be about our current government, even I will afford them some time to talk about the budget without accusing them of conspiring to secrecy on other matters.
It was Diane Abbot MP’s article in the Guardian yesterday that posed the idea of a distraction technique – disappointingly so, as is detracted from an otherwise interesting article. She also questioned the conduct of the Home Office in its detention and deportation policies and practices, levelling some quite heavy allegations at the feet of acting staff.
The idea that children are separated from parents who are being imprisoned merely for infractions against immigration issues is an emotive one indeed. No child deserves that. Nor does a child deserve to see their parent deported and sent hundreds or thousands of miles away.
However, we must be careful that we do not presume the Devil is at work in the guise of the Home Office, or those who represent the UKVI in any organisation or institution. We might be shown in one photograph a small boy with a tear running down his cheek; or a young girl trying desperately to comfort a much younger system. We might be shown any of these stereotype-reinforcing images to build a narrative, combined with the tales of beaten women and unfairly deported parents.
Who is really responsible?
The woman referred to has been a UK resident for 25 years on an Indefinite Leave to Remain visa. In that time she has had children, and from what we are told, the youngest is just thirteen, and very ill. Clearly, to separate a sick 13 year old from his mother is an act of cruelty and surely a breach of the child’s human rights, if nothing else.
So let’s stop and think, just for moment, and afford this “story” some objective thinking.
If the cruelty is so clear and the child’s needs are so obvious; if there is already damage to the child’s quality of life, and further risk of more; what would it take to still force a court to order a deportation? A lack of compassion would explain not bothering to check circumstances, but if all the facts were known and they still opted for that course of action, how cold did they need to be? So is it as simple as blaming the issues of detention and deportation on the Home Office?
So we dig a little deeper.
Apparently, the mother wasn’t financially able to afford a good enough solicitor, which is very sadly the case for many people in walks of life in the UK. Qualified, specialist solicitors cost money and legal aid is massively underfunded. So, is the Devil the solicitors who charge to represent people in detention and deportation cases like these?
Let’s dig a little deeper.
The mother spoke of her fears of being beaten by the guards, and being badly mistreated in the detention centre. I find the idea somewhat abhorrent, and I also find it highly suspicious that people like Diane Abbot MP and others have thus far been refused access to these detention centres. Surely amidst such criticism, a policy of transparency would be prudent, if only to settle the matter and show the correct conditions being adhered to.
So let’s pause for thought.
Why should we so freely accuse the guards of perpetrating horrific crimes of abusing prisoners, with no evidence? Why must we presume their guilt in order to assume that the deported woman must be telling the truth? Why must she be the victim? Are those employees not family people, too? Do they not deserve consideration for their lives, and their innocence? Could they not be a victim of false allegations designed to muddy their name in order to serve the purposes of illegal people wrongly claiming a place in the country?
What about the mother’s actions?
If we stop to consider how she has come to this situation it becomes clear that she did have an ILR (Indefinite Leave to Remain), but this had been revoked. She had broken the law (a fraud offence) and been sentenced to 21 months. In addition, she has past convictions for shoplifting. The mother has pleaded:
“As a mother, no words can describe how I feel being stuck in this prison as my kids need me more than ever,” she said. “Why are they punishing my family for something minor I did as a troubled kid? They are tearing families apart.”
If one plays Devil’s advocate for a moment it would be prudent to point out that it was ten years ago that she was charged for shoplifting – that would have been when her youngest child was three years old. So she would hardly have been a child. If she was old enough and responsible enough to have had three children, should she not also be responsible enough to obey the law?
Responsibility .v. Rights
I don’t at all dismiss the fact that mitigating circumstances sometimes lead people to desperate situations. Nor do I ignore the way people have been forced to live relying on food-banks. In addition to that, being a single parent with a very sick child is a massive challenge. So I am resistant to entirely delivering a damning judgement of the woman facing being separated from her children.
But let’s face some facts.
She has a criminal record. An elder son is living away from home, and effectively homeless, at the age of just 17. On top this, she then committed the further crime of fraud. As a result, she has behaved in a manner that would allow the Home Office to revoke her ILR.
So perhaps the finger of responsibility should be pointed at her, rather than the Home Office. At what point does personal (and parental) responsibility end for the individual in order to lay blame for her situation only with the Home Office? Diane Abbot wants us to suspect the detention centre’s conduct; question the Home Office; interrogate every other reason for this woman’s deportation other than her own blatant disregard for law. As a result, is it not her own fault for causing the revocation of her visa?
Furthermore, her own responsibility for separation from her sick son. This “Sophia” is not an innocent victim in this whole mess; her sick 13 year old son is.
Perhaps that is the mainstay of an argument that this woman should not be deported, solely for the interests of her young son. But when it comes to detention and deportation matters, one can hardly accuse the Home Office of being all “Devil.”