Friday, 8 July 2011

Reform and resistance in the immigration system

The widow of Jimmy Mubenga - who died during a forced deportation in October 2010 - has issued an impassioned plea for reform of enforced removals from Britain. This comes through Amnesty International, who are urging people to write to Theresa May. But to prevent similar deaths, much more than "drastically improve training, monitoring and accountability" is needed.

Adrienne Makenda Kambana's plea has been sent to Amnesty supporters by email;
Last October, my husband Jimmy Mubenga was put on a plane accompanied by three private security guards to be forcibly removed from the UK. We had lived in the UK for 16 years and our five children were born here.

Jimmy died during the removal process. I found out that his death was probably due to the dangerous and abusive techniques used to restrain him. Before he died, witnesses on the plane heard Jimmy cry out that the guards were going to kill him. No one should die like this. Please stop it from happening again

The guards are under investigation for alleged manslaughter and are currently on bail. I am left struggling to bring up our five children without a father.

I would not want anyone to have to go through what our family is suffering. Yet there have been many other reports of people being injured while being removed from the UK. If nothing is done it is only a matter of time before there is another death.

To prevent this, I ask that you write to Home Secretary Theresa May urging her to make the system more humane. This must include proper training of staff carrying out removals, independent monitoring, and making private companies more accountable.

Please take this action in memory of my husband, Jimmy Mubenga.
Everybody who opposes the inhumanity imposed by national borders and immigration controls should take the time to fire off an email. Personalise it and let the Home Secretary know that you are not content to accept the brutality of forced deportation.

Such actions may seem trivial, but they are often a useful way of letting those in power know that they face opposition. This is particularly useful if you are showing support for somebody in another country or, as in this case, if the position you advocate is shut out of the media debate. However, at the same time we have to realise the limitations of such actions.

The point about a "more humane" immigration system is made well by the group No One Is Illegal, who call it "utopic" and "unrealistic" to believe "that controls can be sanitized, turned into their opposite and made fairer;"
Controls are a total system. They are not just external (controlling entry into and enforcing deportation from the country). They are also internal (linking welfare entitlements to immigration status). Welfare and the welfare state have never been intended for all: they are premised on immigration controls. It is no coincidence that the flowering of welfare provision (post 1905 and post 1960) coincided with the enactment of the two major waves of immigration control — the 1905 Aliens Act against Jewish refugees and the 1962 Commonwealth Immigrants Act against black entrants. And now controls are hardening at an ever-increasing rate.As well as being racist, controls are also inherently authoritarian. They can never be “fair” to those subject to them. As long as there are immigration laws, there will be people who fall foul of them and are crushed by them. Arguing that such destruction is “something we just have to live with” is to fall into another lethal category error. Those subject to control: are human beings not vegetables or inanimate objects.
Even if they are taught "handcuff and mechanical restraint training," and all removals are "independently monitored," there will still be people whose job is to restrain and forcibly removed human beings from the country. The "more humane" system will still see thousands of people imprisoned, without trial or time-limit, and kicked out. In many cases, they go back to persecution and death. In innumerable cases, families are torn apart.

Under a "fairer" immigration system, Jimmy Mubenga may not have died on an aeroplane. But he would still have been forcibly deported, separated from the wife and children who now mourn for him.

Then there is the fact that, six months after Nick Clegg claimed that the detention of children for immigration purposes was abolished, Clare Sambrook notes that the reality is somewhat different. That loudly trumpeted “big culture shift within our immigration system” simply hasn't happened, and it is unlikely that the reforms demanded by Amnesty will bring about such a shift either.

Beyond presenting demands to the government, and driving home the point that there is opposition to the mainstream consensus on immigration, far more drastic and direct action is needed. The most recent example of this is the combined court injunction and detention centre blockade which stopped deportation flights to Iraq. As I noted at the time, such solidarity should merely add to direct actions taken by the affected migrants themselves - such as by the hunger strikers in Campsfield, the rioters in Brook House, and the Yarls Wood Four.

Ultimately, it remains the case that the struggle against an inhumane immigration system should not be based upon humanitarian instincts alone. It has to be linked to the various other struggles that take place within the class system and fought from a clearly anti-capitalist perspective. Otherwise, all we are asking for is slightly lighter repression and people like Jimmy Mubenga continue to suffer.