Naheed Ejaz, 28, and her four children, who have lived in Reading for eight years, were arrested and detained by immigration officers last Sunday and threatened with deportation to the mother's native Punjab.
Yesterday, the Home Office agreed to an 11th-hour delay of the deportations after protesters mounted a demonstration outside Whitehall and lawyers made last-minute pleas that the family should be allowed to remain, on humanitarian grounds.
While Mrs Ejaz remains in custody in a portakabin detention centre at Stanstead airport, three of her children have been taken into the care of Berkshire social services, and her six- month old baby is to be taken from her today.
Lawyers and immigration groups criticised the Home Office for its harsh treatment of the family, claiming there was no need for their imprisonment while their case was being decided.
Gulay Mehmet of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said that without warning immigration officials arrived at the family home, 'giving them 25 minutes to pack away eight years of their lives'.
The criticism comes only five weeks after the Home Office was attacked for threatening to deport a Nottingham mother who has lived in Britain for nine years. Six of her seven children have been made wards of court to prevent their removal from the country.
Like Mrs Ejaz's children, they look on England as their home, are well integrated in their communities and schools, and have no wish to move to what is effectively a strange country, where they face penury and have no home or family support.
Ms Mehmet, who has been in contact with Mrs Ejaz in the detention centre, said the family was distraught and fearful. She said that if deported, Mrs Ejaz would rather leave her children in England in care than take them to Punjab, where she faced ostracism and would have no resources to look after them. When she was last in the Punjab in 1990, attempting a reconciliation with her estranged family, her fifth child - then less than a year old - died through lack of proper medical care for fever and diarrhoea.
Mrs Ejaz came to Britain with her now-estranged husband in October 1984 and obtained British citizenship. It subsequently transpired that, Unknown to her, her husband's papers were fraudulently obtained and he was deported as an illegal entrant.
Her papers were therefore also regarded as invalid and, because she had taken her children to Punjab, they too were deemed to have lost any claim to citizenship.
Yesterday a Home Office spokesman said: 'We are now in the process of considering further represntation received on the family's behalf.'
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