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UK Deportation Laws must change if we want to achieve racial equality

While this focus on agents of the state physically harming citizens is important, it is also crucial to fight other forms of state harm. If Black lives truly matter in Britain, then the government must also stop exiling black Britons to foreign countries.

Due to successive developments in the law – including the UK Borders Act 2007, and the Immigration Acts of 2014 and 2016 which delivered the ‘hostile environment’ -now rebranded as the ‘compliant environment’- a person sentenced to 12 months or longer in prison can be deported with little recourse to the exemption.

Even though theoretically there are human rights exceptions to deportation, these are often read very narrowly. For instance, there is an exception for people who have been lawfully resident in the UK for most of their life, are socially and culturally integrated into the UK and face significant obstacles in integrating into the country of return. However, this did not stop the Home Office from arguing that a British-born boy of Nigerian descent, who had been involved in gang-crime, was not socially/culturally integrated in the UK due to his criminal involvement. Hence, Home Office guidance stated that criminal offending will “often be an indication of a lack of integration” and elsewhere adds that “where there are no family, friends or social networks in the country of return, that is not in itself a very significant obstacle to integration.”

Image credit Kadir van Lohuizen/NOOR/Open Society Foundations

Miserably, it is well-known that black people are often more likely to receive longer custodial sentences, as several pieces of research have highlighted, and this has left many in the community vulnerable to this issue resulting in, as immigration lawyer Colin Yeo explains, “the exile of mainly black and minority ethnic people who are functionally British”. For instance, several black men who had grown up in Britain were deported to Jamaica in February 2020.

Meanwhile, London-born twins Darrell and Darren Roberts, both 24, convicted of separate criminal offences, currently face deportation to the islands of Grenada and Dominica respectively, where they have no close relatives.

The brothers were taken into care when they were 13 after their mum died of cancer and their dad returned to Dominica. Neither parent had British citizenship.

“It was heartbreaking. I’ve finished my sentence; I was expecting to be released,” Darrell said. Meanwhile, his twin faces being separated from his five-year-old son, also born in London. Isn’t this tragic? Won’t this disrupt an innocent 5-year-old life?

It is right that people face consequences for contravening the law. However, it hardly seems fair that a white English boy can face jail time and then go back home to his family, but many black boys face jail time and are then deported far away from their families to countries they have little to no memory of. This is racial injustice, this is one of the things that the British society should take care of, and the Black Lives Matter movement fight for.

That seems like unfair double punishment, going against Article 14 of the Human Rights Act, which guarantees our right not to be discriminated against and also our Article 8 rights to private and family life. That is perhaps why in an independent government report on ‘welfare in detention’ the report’s author, Stephen Shaw, expressed concern over the deportation of ‘criminals more British than foreign’.

People participate in a protest against immigration policy. Image credit CNS photo/Stephanie Keith, Reuters

As he writes in the report, many such deportees ‘have strong UK accents, have been to UK schools, and all of their close family and friends were based in the UK’. These people are essentially British but unfortunately, often due to dire personal circumstances, have been unable to formalise it.

Successive governments have been deeply aware of this. Indeed, as recently as 2013 the UK government produced documents for Jamaican deportees which included such advice as ‘Try to be ‘Jamaican’. Yet, successive governments have continued to hold their ground.

What’s more, this injustice appears to contradict public opinion. Polling indicates that 58-72% of the UK public do not want to deport people who have committed crimes if they have been in Britain since they were young children. The country agrees that black British people, for all intents and purposes, deserve better. So why nothing changes?

Perhaps a solution can be found in reforming our current deportation laws, making it easier to invoke human rights protections against deportation for those who have grown up in Britain.

Another solution could be making it easier for people with Commonwealth heritage to gain and retain British citizenship in the first place. After all, Spain already does this, under articles 22 of 24 of their civil code, by making citizenship easier to gain and retain for those from former Spanish colonies. Perhaps now, in the era of Brexit where we are looking to form equitable and equal non-European international bonds, is the time for Britain to do the same. And you? What is your opinion on this?


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