Sunday, 2 January 2011

Child detention and challenging the immigration system

Clare Sambrook, over at Open Democracy, has a lengthy article demolishing the government's - and particularly Nick Clegg's - claims that "child detention for immigration purposes is to end." It is worthwhile reading, and I would urge everyone with an interest in this topic to take a look.

The key point is that, rather than "ending" the detention of children, the government is shifting it from Yarl's Wood to Tinsley House until May. After which, they shall be moved on to "family friendly secure pre-departure accommodation." As Sambrook notes, "the Government’s December commitments do not end child detention; they repackage it."

Not that any of this should be particularly surprising. The two things that (barely) distinguished the Lib Dems from Labour and the Tories were education and immigration. With the first pillar falling so spectacularly, the second couldn't be far behind.

The only difference is that this particular back-peddaling has been lost in the dust of the other one. There is no outrage, no cry of betrayal, and no rioting on the streets. Considering how the liberal and centre-left's narrative of "broken promises," an inevitability in a system not built to serve the vast majority, the silence on this subject is deafening.

Perhaps this is because, as Sambrook suggests, "Clegg’s rhetoric of compassion gave the Liberal Democrats a much needed ‘win’ in a pre-Christmas period rocked by student protest and accusations of betrayal" and they wanted to believe.

Whatever the case, opposition has died down whilst families continue to be detained, and with the entire legal system weighted against them. They still face "the automatic disbelief that too often greets asylum seekers from their first moment of arrival." Not to mention "the shrinking availability of legal advice that might protect them (and the system) from sloppy decision-making."

Sambrook cites Professor Heaven Crawley's paper Ending the detention of children;
A lack of access to high quality legal representation combined with legislative changes designed to speed up asylum decisions have resulted in some families becoming ‘failed asylum seekers’ even where significant protection concerns are outstanding.

Families who are considered ‘appeal exhausted’ may never in fact have had their cases fully and properly considered because of a lack of access to good quality legal advice and representation, including at the appeal stage.
Thus not only has the issue at hand - child detention - not been solved, but the framework of  systemic brutalisation and dehumanisation within which it occurs remains unchallenged.

In one respect, this is why we can be grateful that the Lib Dems joined the coalition government. They were never going to serve as any kind of tempering influence on the Conservatives, because that's not the reality of parliamentary democracy within capitalism. What they have done is demonstrated to people the folly of electoral politics and exposed exactly where the limits of reformism lie. They have neutered liberalism as a tempering influence on the left.

Thus, I second Sambrook when she "urges all campaign groups to carry on working to end child detention." But I would go further, and say that as a foundation to this and related campaigns, the very framework of presumptions which determine how the immigration system operates has to be called into question.

If such a challenge does not inform how we approach the subject of immigration, then all we are doing is seeking reform for reform's sake and trying to make an inherently inhumane and unjust system "nicer." If that is the case, our only success will be a PR victory with no substance.