You can almost predict the trajectory of the British government’s policies by looking at the US. Just like Donald Trump, barely a couple of months after Boris Johnson secured his “powerful new mandate” at the ballot box, immigrants are bearing the brunt of government policy..
It may not be the most profound of observations; the comparisons between the two nations have been apparent for some time – but clearer the similarities, the more concerning it is.
Caribbean nationals are – and haven’t stopped being – targets. Next week, a plane to Jamaica will bring with it about 50 people. The home office has said all have criminal convictions but have served their sentences in UK jails, and many now face returning to a country they left as young children. The plane is the second to leave the UK since the Windrush scandal broke. There was another that flew out in February last year, although that only contained 29 people as some were given last-minute reprieves.
With the government having learned nothing from the last attempt to use criminal convictions as justification for stripping citizens of their right to remain in the UK, the trauma of removing these people from their families, homes and ways of life continues. The government, with no qualms about being seen to be pandering to the right, has simply ploughed on with its hostile approach – despite outrage from individual MPs
There are, of course, a number of groups it has deemed unworthy of retaining British citizenship. But the brazenness of the home office’s decision to let these deportees languish will little or no support back in their “home countries" is difficult to take.
As May Bulman, The Independent’s social affairs correspondent, has reported, many of those expected to be removed are parents to young children. They are, in many cases, the children and relatives of the Windrush generation the UK has already failed. Yet their convictions seem to have been offered as explanation enough for leaving them behind, for destroying their families.
Karen Doyle, national organiser of Movement for Justice, told The Independent: “Trying to restart mass deportations to Jamaica while the Windrush generation have yet to receive a penny, and many are still waiting months later for decisions, is a slap in the face for the Jamaican diaspora community in the UK.”
As part of the Jamaican diaspora, who both knows family members and regularly talks to people who have been unfairly deported from the UK, that “slap in the face” isn’t simply justified outrage, it’s so much more. It’s having to say goodbye to your children for an indefinite amount of time; trying desperately to rebuild your life in a place now deemed your true home, often with no legal documents or proof of identity; it’s being expected to put up and shut up while living your worst nightmare.
We don’t talk enough about the emotional trauma of both being detained and then later deported when covering these stories. Sure, it’s apparent in the quotes we hear about people missing their kids, spouses and communities, but the sheer volume of these stories makes it almost easier to move quickly past them. We can’t afford to do that. The second we lose sight of the horrors that this government is inflicting on people, the easier it will be for them to press on with this immigration policy.
An article in the BMC Psychiartry journal from 2018 suggested that children are left marked by such processes: “When comparing children of detained or deported parents with peers whose parents were either legal permanent residents or undocumented [...] without prior contact with immigration enforcement [...] reports indicated higher levels of PTSD symptoms and trauma in children of detained or deported parents than the other two groups”.
The fallout goes both ways. When parents are detained or threatened with deportation, there is often “a substantial increase in reported suicidal ideation” or suicidal thoughts.
These are cross-generational issues we’re talking about; they don’t end the moment these people are out of sight and out of mind. Campaign groups like End Deportations, Unis Resist Border Controls and Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants are doing their part by holding demonstrations against the flight on 6 February. We should support them. Remember, we have a prime minister and home secretary who would rather introduce reactionary measures than make any real effort to understand and reform the criminal justice system, if we stay silent, things will continue to spiral downwards.
Decades from now, we’ll still be talking about this. We have been having the same immigration conversation about a number of groups for more than a century. How exactly these governmental failures will manifest in the future is unclear, but what we know now should be evidence enough that this increasingly extreme system is in desperate need of an overhaul.