In a show of acquiescence to the “liberal” spirit of their junior coalition partners, the Tories agreed to end the detention of immigrant children in prison-like centres such as Yarl's Wood.
But given that they have no intention of ending the racist immigration policies which see hundreds of desperate asylum seekers snatched from their homes and expelled from the country, they were confronted with a problem: how to maintain their deportation-happy policies now that they can't just cart kids off to jail while they fill the plane with fuel?
A leaked briefing paper on “Alternatives to Detention for Asylum Seeking Families Subject to Removal” gives us an insight. The “idealised process”, to be piloted in north-west England, involves informing families that they will be deported (or “removed”, as the policy wonks euphemistically have it) “at some point in the next two weeks” if they refuse to leave the UK voluntarily. According to the briefing, “it is still undecided […] whether a specific date and time [for “removal”] will be given, or a longer period of a couple of days, in which they will have to remain in the property ready.”
If the government's aim was to develop a policy that maintains all the demeaning and brutal authoritarianism of detention without involving an actual detention centre, then they may accomplish it with this scheme.
The “idealised process” leaves families due for deportation in a state of desperate, terrified flux in which any night's sleep could be interrupted by a gang of immigration cops at the door, ready to “remove the family from the property” so that they can be “taken to the airport to board the plane.” And, if the government eventually decides that it will provide specific dates for “removal” (rather than “at some point in the next two weeks”), then the family is expected to “remain in the property ready” until that point – in other words, house arrest. In other words, detention.
Is this policy “better” than the previous approach of industrialised incarceration of immigrants? The racist fundamentals remain the same.
The briefing warns that “lobbying from voluntary groups […] is common and can also be expected.”
We need to ensure that this policy is fought not only on the basis of case-by-case lobbying to save individuals from deportation, but through a concerted trade-union campaign that asserts the right of workers to have the same freedom of movement across borders that capital does.