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New unofficial policy on deporting Jamaicans who arrived as children reported


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The Guardian reports that the Home Office has agreed with Jamaica not to deport Jamaican citizens who arrived in the UK under the age of 12. The scope of the reported agreement is unclear: it arises in the context of an upcoming deportation flight to Jamaica, scheduled for 2 December 2020, but whether it applies only to that flight, or indeed only to Jamaicans, is unknown. The news comes from the Jamaican high commissioner and no announcement has been made by the Home Office. A Home Office spokesman responding to the Guardian story did not deny the existence of an agreement, though.

Deporting people raised British: an ongoing national scandal

First things first: this is very good, long overdue news. It is completely unacceptable to deport people who arrived in the United Kingdom as children to a country they barely know. The UK is their home in every meaningful sense, other than in law. It is an appalling double punishment to exile them from their family, friends and communities once they have already served their time under criminal law.

I highly recommend Luke de Noronha’s Deporting Black Britons for some real insight into what actually happens to those who are deported to Jamaica. At the heart of the book lies the stories of the consequences of deportation for four men and those around them. I confess there were parts of the book with which I struggled but de Noronha’s work is genuinely eye-opening, even — or perhaps especially — for a seasoned old immigration lawyer like me.

These cases also highlight very serious and discriminatory flaws in our citizenship laws: those who are born here or arrive as children ought to be able to live in the United Kingdom as citizens. Further, if a person who arrived as a child does commit criminal offences in the United Kingdom, that is our responsibility and it is wrong to send them to a country that did not raise them.

Lenient policy clashes with automatic deportation laws

As lawyers know, what is legal and what is right are by no means aligned. The law obliges the Home Secretary to deport any foreign national who is convicted of a criminal offence and sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment or more. The same law, the UK Borders Act 2007, allows for only limited exceptions to this rule, one of which is if the deportation would breach the person’s human rights. Other laws, namely the Immigration Rules and the Immigration Act 2014, specify exactly when human rights will and will not be breached in deportation cases.

There is nothing that specifically protects a person who arrived as a child under the age of 12. Even those who were born in the United Kingdom can be deported under these laws, where they never acquired British citizenship: see the ongoing case of Remi Akinyemi for an example of this in action.

So, the reported agreement with Jamaica is certainly good news. This is how change might start to happen. But it is not as far as we know a policy which applies to all foreign nationals who arrived under the age of 12; it is not necessarily permanent; and, on the face of it, the agreement is contrary to the complex web of laws governing automatic deportation and human rights.

A promising area for reform

Campaigning to end all deportations or on the issue of the double punishment of all foreign criminals seems unrealistic in the present climate, to put it mildly. Most people think prison sentences are too lenient already, and those who come to a country as adults then break that country’s laws are in a different situation to those who are brought here as small children. A genuine consensus could be built around the treatment of those who arrive as children, though, and could also feed into reform of our unfair citizenship laws.

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Colin Yeo

Immigration and asylum barrister, blogger, writer and consultant at Garden Court Chambers in London and founder of the Free Movement immigration law website.