Kieron is rescued from deportation by neighbours from his estate (Picture: Ali Painter/Netflix)
For anyone who hasn’t seen the latest season of Top Boy, there’s one powerful scene that stands above the rest.
In the emotive episode, Kieron Walker-Smith (played by Joshua Blissett) is detained ‘by order of the Home Secretary’ and dragged out of his home by immigration police, who accuse him of entering the country illegally after being born in Rwanda, manhandling his mother in the process.
Kieron is rescued from deportation by neighbours from his estate who surround the police in an attempt to stop him being taken away.
I was incredibly moved by the scene, as it reflected several realities I see in my job as communications director for migrants rights charity the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) – namely, the brutality of immigration enforcement, the incompetence of the Home Office and the power of community to fight it.
It may have been fictional, and it may not have saved Kieron from his ultimate tragic fate, but it still felt like a powerful cultural moment that had a lot to say about how we currently approach immigration.
His story of coming to the UK as a baby on his mum’s passport is not unique and was legal until 1998, but it’s no longer permitted – and that is how Kieron became undocumented.
This situation resonates with many who have grown up only knowing the UK as their home, but find themselves at threat of deportation to a distant place, and it’s a reality that we’ve seen many times at JCWI.
Many of our clients’ experiences mirror those of Kieron. Our lawyers are fighting to protect people who have fallen through the cracks and ended up undocumented.
Take Alison*. She came to the UK on her mother’s passport at the age of six. Her mum was already settled here and working in health and social care.
Alison had no idea that coming to this country on her mother’s passport, like Kieron, meant she had become undocumented, until she began applying for university and jobs, at which point she found she had no national insurance number.
After four years of tussling with the Home Office and having her life turned upside down, she called the JCWI advice line and was eventually finally able to get documented.
During this process, however, despite being a young person with no income, she was denied a fee waiver and was forced to keep up with extortionate costs to remain in the country. If she hadn’t been one of the lucky few to access support and legal representation she would have again found herself disheartened and undocumented.
Instead, she went on to go to university and is now successfully pursuing her chosen career in our country.
It’s not just our lawyers fighting this fight though – it’s ordinary people on the ground organising anti-raid groups that hold our communities together to stop immigration enforcement and police from ripping them apart.
We saw the power of community action in the face of immigration raids and deportations in Peckham last year where, after a five-hour stand-off with the police, the local community successfully stopped an immigration raid.
Similarly, two years ago, hundreds of people descended on Kenmure Street in Scotland to prevent deportations and, after an eight-hour stand-off, freed two people from the clutches of immigration officers.
Community resistance works – just like in Top Boy – but this government’s increasing hostility to migrant communities and the insidious nature of the hostile environment has forced teachers, NHS workers, and other service staff to essentially behave like immigration officers.
We’ve found examples of patients being asked their immigration status before being treated and other public servants checking for immigration status before offering a job, housing or other support.
But with the new Illegal Migration Act coming into force, we’ll need our communities to come together more than ever before.
The Act, in our view, essentially removes the right to seek asylum in the UK, weakens universal human rights protections, and goes against international law.
We will see more cases like Kieron’s, and others that are all too real.
But things don’t need to be like this. With some common sense, the Government could make it better for our communities and the people who make them what they are.
At the JCWI, we want the rules simplified, so that after living in the UK for five years, people will have the right to live, work and study for as long as they like, and apply for benefits if eligible, moving them one step closer to citizenship and away from the precarity of Keiron’s story.
We also urge the government to end the brutal No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) visa conditions – which makes people ineligible for most social welfare benefits and public housing.
On top of that, making visa renewals automatic and affordable would mean people don’t have to go hungry to stay in our country.
Furthermore, granting automatic British citizenship for anyone born in the UK would end the ludicrous law that means people who have only ever known the UK can be deported to a country they have never been to.
We all deserve to be treated fairly and equally. We also deserve to be able to earn a living, get support when we need it and to feel secure in our homes, no matter where we’re from.
That’s what makes our communities stronger – and it is that strength of community that eventually saved Kieron from the immediate threat of deportation – neighbours and strangers coming together to stop immigration police from ripping him away from his home, buying him the time to take on the Home Office’s complex system.
A government of compassion and morality would make the right choice for people, instead of forcing our communities to maintain the country’s moral standards. But until then, as Top Boy showed us so powerfully, community resistance may be the only way we push back and force change.