Tell the British Government: "Jessica Must Stay!"

by Shaker Thalestris, an overeducated, unemployed autistic woman who has slightly more cats than she has college degrees.

The following is the text of a press release recently published on Indymedia UK regarding the possible deportation of US-born UK resident Jessica Davanzo, who recently escaped marriage to an abusive man and started working as a personal assistant to a disabled British woman:
Jessica Davanzo, originally from the US, moved to the UK on a 2 year visa in October 2006 after marrying her ex-husband, a UK citizen, and breaking all ties with her former life in the US. However, after she moved to the UK, but before her visa came up for renewal for indefinite leave to remain, her husband started abusing and threatening her, forcing her, after many attempts at relationship counselling failed to have any effect on his increasingly abusive behaviour, to leave him, move to another town (Northampton) and start a new job.

Soon after this, and possibly as a result of the stress and trauma she experienced, in June 2008 Jessica became ill with a neurological condition called Guillain Barre syndrome, which resulted in her spending 6 months in hospital and being temporarily paralysed, needing intensive rehabilitation to regain the ability to walk, as well as having longer-term effects of chronic fatigue and back pain, and being unable to work for 10 months. Due to her immigration status Jessica had no access to any form of UK state benefits, leaving her destitute and at risk of homelessness.
As a result of this experience of impairment and the awareness of disability it brought with it, after her recovery Jessica decided to work as a PA (Personal Assistant) for a disabled employer, Roxanne Homayoun. Roxanne, who has physical and visual impairments and requires 24-hour assistance, and is an activist for disability rights with an MA in 20th century history, said "Jessica is such a truly positive, honest, and principled person that she has helped me to see that many of my dreams are still achievable, they just need modifying. I would be absolutely devastated if Jessica is deported."

In the notice of decision dated 3rd June 2009 (which Jessica only received on the 10th June), she was informed that there was "no right of appeal against this decision" which she was later told by an immigration solicitor was not in fact true. Jessica and her solicitors are now seeking a judicial review of the decision. She was also told, despite several police reports and a supporting letter from Victim Support, that "you have not produced evidence to confirm that your marriage was caused to break down during the probationary period, as a result of domestic violence".

Jessica's case brings together issues of vital concern for feminists, disability rights activists and all those who support the free movement of people across borders. The UK Government's decision to demand that she leave the country shows a complete disregard for the circumstances of women fleeing abusive relationships (if she had stayed within the relationship and continued to submit to her ex-husband's violence, she would have been permitted to stay in the country - what message does that send to women trapped in such situations? This is victim-blaming at its worst - women being punished for getting out of a life-threatening situation or rewarded for staying within it) and for the incredibly important role of PAs in maintaining disabled people's independence.

The letter Jessica received from the Home Office claims that forcing her to leave the UK is not a breach of Jessica's human rights under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. However, they have totally failed to take into consideration the human rights of her employer, Roxanne, whose physical safety, freedom of private life and ability to participate in political society would all be put in serious jeopardy by the loss of her PA, given the extreme rarity of PAs with whom disabled employers are able to build up the sort of relationship (itself arguably "family life" under Article 8 of the ECHR) enjoyed by Roxanne and Jessica.

If the UK government cared either about women survivors of marital abuse or about disabled people who need assistance to live independently (for whom it can take an extremely long time to find a PA with the right attitude to genuinely support their human right to choice and control over their own lives, and for whom losing such a PA could easily result in risk of institutionalisation or life-threatening neglect), then it would not have threatened Jessica with deportation. Jessica Must Stay!
Jessica's life is in the UK now, and it would be wrong to add to her extensive list of personal tragedies by forcing her to give it up, start over and rebuild her life from scratch again. And for Roxanne, the loss of Jessica could mean the loss of an independent life in the community. It is deeply unfair that the relationship these women have is not considered important enough to keep them together, while any marital or family relationship, however tenuous, dysfunctional, or downright abusive, would have been preserved. That constitutes a patriarchal, heterosexist, and ableist double standard if I ever saw one.

Sign the online petition to let Jessica stay in the UK; join the Facebook group in support of her; or you can contact the British Home Office (headed by Home Secretary Sir David Normington) at this email and the UK Border Agency (headed by Chief Executive Lin Homer) at this email.

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