I’m being held at the Harmondsworth immigration removal centre, next to Heathrow airport. Tomorrow I’m due to be deported to Jamaica. My kids don’t know yet that they might be about to lose their dad. On the phone they keep asking me: “Daddy, when are you coming home?”
Is someone who has lived their life in the UK, paid taxes and raised a family here really “foreign”
I don’t know what to tell them because what “home” means is exactly the problem. The home my kids are talking about is Nottingham, where we live. But when the government talks about sending me “back”, they mean a place that’s completely foreign to me – Jamaica. I have no family in Jamaica; my parents, siblings, aunts and uncles all live in the UK and have British citizenship. I first came here 20 years ago when I was nine. Britain is where I went to school and raised a family. I grew up going to football matches at Nottingham Forest. For a time, I even worked at the Walkers Crisps factory. Still, the UK government considers me a “foreign” criminal.
Behind the walls and bars of a detention centre it’s easy to feel that you’re a criminal. It’s true, I committed a drug-related crime for which I was sentenced to 20 months in prison. But although I made a mistake, I’ve served my time in prison. I shouldn’t be punished for ever.
What good does it do to split up a family? A prison sentence has already ripped mine apart. I don’t want to think about what will happen to my family if I’m sent to Jamaica. I can’t imagine not being here to see my kids grow up.
Where I want to be is home, with my wife and family. If I was there today, I’d have walked my 10-year-old girl to school. She was born here, and I often think how fortunate she is to have grown up in Britain. Locked inside, I find myself remembering the large stack of books in her bedroom and the number of new words she’s learned.
You feel so powerless when you’re detained. In here, it’s all about lawyers and finding evidence and signing forms. But that’s hard to do when you can’t call anyone. We didn’t have a phone signal for weeks. Sealed off from the outside world, we couldn’t contact our lawyers or families. Many of us thought the process of deportation would be stopped, given that we hadn’t been able to speak with anyone – but the Home Office is still intent on going ahead.
The idea that people like me are “foreign” criminals who should be deported without questions being asked sounds compellingly simple. But is someone who has lived their life in the UK, paid taxes and raised a family here really “foreign”?
In the detention centre people are talking a lot about Windrush. People who came to Britain from Jamaica and built their lives here thought they were British – until they were told they weren’t. They didn’t have a fair chance. And neither do we.
I’m trying to stay strong, but I’m worried. Today could be my last day in Britain before I’m forced to board a plane tomorrow, headed to a country where I really will be a foreigner.
• Michael McDonald, a client of Detention Action, is due to be deported from the UK to Jamaica on 11 February 2020