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Outrage as United Kingdom deports convicted criminals to Jamaica

Britain Immigration Scandal
Campaigners chant slogans on Parliament Square as they protest against government plans to deport people to Jamaica, in London, Fevruary 10, 2020. Aaron Chown/AP

London — The British government allowed a deportation flight to take off on Tuesday despite a last-minute court order saying some people scheduled to be on it had not had appropriate access to legal advice. Politicians and campaigners had tried to halt the flight, which was to take a number of people who had spent most of their lives in the U.K., where they were convicted of crimes, to Jamaica.

In Britain, if a non-citizen is convicted of a crime and sentenced to more than 12 months in jail, they are subject to automatic deportation. 

Tuesday's flight was initially set to carry 50 people, some of whom came to the U.K. when they were as young as 2, according to the detainee support group, Detention Action. The group got a last minute court order to prevent the deportation of some of its clients, who they said had not had adequate access to legal advice due to a cellphone network outage.

Ultimately, only 17 people were on the flight, Britain's Home Office said, and Detention Action was working to determine who was deported.

Windrush scandal

There were widespread calls to suspend Tuesday's flight after a report was leaked on recommendations following the so-called "Windrush scandal."

Hundreds of thousands of people who migrated to Britain from the Caribbean between 1948 and 1971 have become known as the Windrush generation — named for the first ship sent to bring people back to help rebuild post-war Britain's economy.

They were entitled to "indefinite leave to remain" in the U.K., but changes to British immigration law in 2012 meant people needed to prove their immigration status to access basic services, and many from the Windrush generation — especially those who had come to Britain as children — did not have the necessary paperwork. It led to at least 164 people, who had lived nearly all their lives in Britain, being detained and deported.

When the scandal came to light, an inquiry was commissioned to look into mistakes that led to the deportations. The report has not yet been published, but parts of it were leaked to the press, including the recommendation that deportations of foreign-born offenders who came to the U.K. as children — like those who were scheduled to be on the Tuesday flight to Jamaica — be halted.

"I have no one in Jamaica"

Howard Ormsby, 32, was scheduled to be on Tuesday's flight. He was released from prison in December after serving 18 months for possession with intent to supply Class A drugs. He has five children in the U.K.

"I've never tried to deny the fact I've made a mistake, but everyone has a chance to right their wrongs," Ormsby told BBC News. "I have all my family here. I have no one in Jamaica," he said.

"People have served their sentences," Sarah Marcus, a spokesperson from the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, told CBS News. "Many of them have been out of prison for 10 or more years. … They have years now where they've demonstrated good character, where they have not committed any further offenses, where they have worked and had families," she said.

The government defended Tuesday's flight and said it would continue trying to deport those who were kept in the country by the court order.

"We make no apology whatsoever for seeking to remove dangerous foreign criminals," the Home Office said in a statement. "We will be urgently pursuing the removal of those who were prevented from boarding the flight due to a legal challenge over a mobile network failure."

Marcus said there should be an immediate change in official procedure.

"British children who have been left without a father, there's women who have been turned into single mothers overnight. There is a huge amount of public trust at stake. You know, the government lost public trust over Windrush. If they cannot show that they are serious about addressing the causes of Windrush, how can the public trust them?"

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