The Home Office needs to recognize that immigration detention has far-reaching consequences for thousands of families across the country including British partners and children.
Immigration enforcement including separation through immigration detention and removal causes considerable and often irreversible psychological and emotional damage to people Immigration detention is also extremely expensive and with half the people released again there is a question about why they were detained in the first place.
Now the UK detains some twenty-eight thousand people each year and forcibly removes about twelve thousand. Eighty-five to ninety percent of those people are men and a large number of them have dependents in the UK.
We’re looking at how immigration enforcement and things like immigration detention affects the entire family so not just the individual directly affected, but also their partners and children. Our research looks at mixed immigration status families consisting of men who are at risk of deportation because of their immigration status whose partners or children are British or EEA nationals.
Our research took place over three years in which we followed 30 deportable men and their partners and also interviewed around 30 practitioners including a senior manager of a detention estate a number of independent inspectors, lawyers, NGOs, and others.
Policy and Media Analysis
There were a policy and media analysis, and we observed over 30 Immigration Appeals. So the main findings of our research were high levels of harm done to the people detained but also their families, including behavioral, psychological, and educational problems for children.
There are a number of aspects of the system which increase the harm done to these families. Location is a big issue, people are often held very far from their families and they may be moved between detention centers repeatedly and often without any notice or explanation. Repeat detentions, lengthy detentions, the absence of a time frame were all factors that caused particular harm for those involved.
Location can make it very difficult for families to visit with time, distance, and costs being major barriers. Separation often continues even after detention potentially permanently if the person is removed from the country but even when people are released they often struggle to reintegrate with their families. There is very little Home Office policy to help maintain family relationships for detainees particularly compared to the provision for prisoners.
Finally, the research also found a number of tensions and biases in the system. The Home Office’s emphasis on removing people creates an institutional reluctance to strengthen or sometimes even acknowledge private and family life.
Furthermore, the research indicated an undervaluing and heightened suspicion of the family and private lives of foreign national men. We recommend that Home Office decision makers look at the damage to family units rather than just individuals in making the decisions to detain. We recommend that the norm will be for community-based alternatives to detention but if the detention takes place that there is a 28-day maximum time limit. That individual released from detention is housed with or as close as possible to their families to help with reintegration.
We recommend that the Home Office contractually obliges detention providers to have schemes in place to support detainees maintain family relationships with best practice borrowed from the prison system where appropriate including home leaver schemes so people can attend key events like births and that the Home Office establishes a Family Fund to help reimburse the travel costs. Recognizing the importance of modern technology for maintaining family relationships we recommend that social media and communications programs like Skype are available in detention centers.