The double standard of deportation

“What is it if not unjust to punish a human being twice over, who had already served their sentence following conviction, by returning them to a foreign land as foreign to them as to us?” Shahrar Ali criticises the Home Office decision to deport 17 convicted criminals to Jamaica – it is attempting to deport 33 more – sending them to a country they can barely remember and tearing them from their families.

Shahrar Ali, Green Party Home Affairs Spokesperson
Shahrar Ali, Green Party Home Affairs Spokesperson

Image: Stuart Keegan

Shahrar Ali

There are a number of important principles at stake in our treatment of the Jamaica 50 – all of whom would have been forcibly removed from the UK were it not for an eleventh hour judicial review; but none of those who now remain has yet escaped the threat of deportation.

The capacity of a court of appeal judge to be able to order the Home Office to stop the deportation of those otherwise unable to gain access to legal advice, due to faulty detention centre phone signals, enshrines a principle of justice that all should have access to protection from the law irrespective of their nationality. Those who were frustrated in their access should therefore be guaranteed it – and we know that around 25 were granted further time to appeal their deportations while 17 were deported as scheduled.

Whilst granting equal access to legal advice is fundamental to our liberal democracy, focus on avoidance of mobile signal outages conceals the true scale of the onslaught on civil liberties that these planned deportations represent. The government would seek to justify its actions by blanket assertions about the seriousness of the crimes committed by those it would want to deport and by appealing to an ideal of public safety in which the perpetrator is somehow banished from our shores and all imagined risk to us and our loved ones eliminated.

Yet this is not how a civilised society should treat its criminals – and I do mean our criminals. Herein lies our first, grossly offending double standard. Since having gained access to the personal stories and histories of many of these detainees – whether directly or mediated by solicitors, journalists, campaigners and family members – we know that many of them would not just have a claim to live in this country in their own right (quite independently of whether citizenship has been applied for or recognised) but that they would otherwise be deprived of their families in the UK; and their families of them. 

We may well have had our hearts tugged at by stories of children – up to forty we know about – suddenly at risk of being deprived of their fathers. It is not “shrill virtue signalling”, as Suella Braverman MP would have it, to feel outraged about such treatment of families; it is a right to family life, and a human right at that. Children are being made victims themselves and giving testimony to that effect.

The double standard is to hold certain criminals to a different, and higher standard; and along multiple hypocritical lines, too.

What is it if not unjust to punish a human being twice over, who had already served their sentence following conviction, by returning them to a foreign land as foreign to them as to us?

What is it if not unjust to deprive a young family of their father who was determined to learn from their mistakes and make an example of how they could turn their life around?

What is it if not unjust for successive governments to over-prescribe deportation law to cover up for past political failures and end up politicising the law in the process?

Of many of the cases we have heard about – by any measure, and even on a harsh interpretation of the law – protections against uprooting persons from their family dependants and children are not being followed.

Are there no circumstances when a country may not lawfully deport a foreign national due to serious offences committed? Yes, there may be. But these deportation orders must be especially subject to judicial review and our utmost humanitarian scrutiny – not for fear of what would happen to our safety if we got those decisions wrong but for fear of what would become of us if we pandered to the inherently racist exercise of treating criminals who had served their time as second class citizens because they and their children were of Jamaican descent.

The hostile environment facilitated deportation of the Windrush generation and even before lessons have been learned Johnson’s government revels in further abuses of power – whether through the threat of further criminalisation of free speech on our university campuses when students would seek to organise around Palestinian rights; the threat to review the use of judicial review which led to the very postponement of deportations; or the misjudgement of appointing a special adviser subsequently found to have advocated eugenicist bile and racist IQ-ideology.  

Greens will continue to expose the hostile environment for what it is and to stand up for all that is best about human beings; not to deny others’ ability to reform nor their right to live among us as equals.

Dr Shahrar Ali is Green Party Home Affairs spokesperson and its former Deputy Leader.