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Stop deportations placard

Stop deportations placard, Photo: Michael Fleshman, Flickr / cropped from original / licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0, linked at bottom of article

The success of protests and petitions in stopping Osime Brown’s deportation shows how the movement can challenge this racist government, writes Lucy Nichols

On Tuesday the Home Office abandoned its plan to deport Osime Brown, a 22-year-old autistic man who faced deportation for stealing his friend’s phone – a crime for which he was convicted but denies doing.

Osime moved to the UK from Jamaica aged 4 with his mother and has spent his whole life living in the UK. At the age of 19, he was convicted of stealing his friend’s mobile phone under the controversial Joint Enterprise law, which allows a court to jointly convict someone for the crime of another, if the court decides that the other party was likely to commit that crime. Osime was handed a five-year prison sentence and on his early released aged 21, he faced deportation to Jamaica, a country he had not lived in since he was 4.

After a long battle with the Home Office, and a campaign which gained support from MPs and the public, Osime has won the right to remain in the UK with his family. Over 300,000 people signed a petition to allow Osime to stay in Britain and protesters gathered in London and Glasgow and Saturday to oppose his deportation.

Osime has complex disabilities and is autistic – to forcibly remove him from his home to another country where he has no family would be an act of extreme cruelty from the Home Office. His life would be significantly harder if sent to Jamaica by the government, and according to his mother, he would suffer greatly.

Of course, the justification used for this deportation – the legal basis of which is spurious at best – was that Osime has a criminal conviction. Under the Immigration Act 1971, a person can be deported from the UK ‘if the Secretary of State deems his deportation to be conducive to the public good’, and under the UK Borders Act 2007, ‘the deportation of a foreign criminal is conducive to the public good’. The length of Osime’s conviction (five years) made it very difficult to appeal, and according to British law, Osime posed a significant threat to the British public, even if his only conviction was for the theft of a mobile phone.

The decision to keep Osime Brown at home with his family in Birmingham is a huge victory and demonstrates the power of mass mobilisation. It is also not an isolated event. In the last month or so, we have seen numerous examples of the public standing up to the Home Office to halt its attempts to deport people. The people of Glasgow coming together to stop an Immigration van in its tracks as a spontaneous act of resistance was an historic victory, and a huge public campaign managed to block the deportation of Joey Bediako to Ghana.

However, the issue of tightening borders and draconian immigration laws brings up a number of issues that we, as socialists, must counter. The attempts to deport people who have lived and worked in the UK for their entire lives must be understood as horrific shows of racism from the Home Office. Off the back of the huge Black Lives Matter movement, it is clear that the government’s weak attempts to tackle racism, like with the Sewell Report, served only to pacify the anger felt by the British public, rather than to implement any serious change. Meanwhile, the government continues to detain and deport people looking to come to the UK for a better life.

In 2020, the government detained over 24,000 people in detention centres, a third of whom were deported to their country of origin. Just 2% of detainees managed to secure the leave to remain in the UK, while the rest were granted bail.

This all comes as Priti Patel’s ‘New Plan for Immigration’ is enacted in the UK. This new approach to immigration is draconian and deeply cruel. In a statement to the House of Commons in March, Patel argued that the government’s renewed immigration law would be based solely on fairness, before outlining in vague detail the difference between an acceptable immigrant, and one who is only in Britain to steal resources from those who really need them. If it wasn’t so desperately angering it would be laughable. We must begin to fight this Conservative idea that a person’s worth is tied up in her ability to contribute to capitalist society.

The British state’s attitudes towards immigration are characterised by racism and xenophobia, and it is working class migrants and refugees who suffer the most at the hands of the Home Office and border controls. Meanwhile, Britain needs migrant workers to survive, and many industries are almost reliant on the labour of workers from abroad, who are of course often subject to even more exploitation than the rest of us. At the same time, migrants face deportation, often for very arbitrary reasons, such as an admin mix-up in the case of Joey Bediako or a minor criminal conviction in the case of Osime Brown.

Given the cases of Osime Brown and many others, and Patel’s ‘New Immigration Plan’, the hostile environment does not appear to be going anywhere, so it is absolutely crucial that the left unites to demonstrate solidarity with migrants, and anyone who risks deportation. The Tory government’s attitude to working people is abysmal, and this extends to migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. The use of direct action to stop immigration vans must be paired with a serious attempt by the left to change the government’s policies towards migrants.

An end to institutional racism is one of the key demands of the People’s Assembly demonstration on 26 June.

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