Leading article: Hard hearts and soft targets

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The Independent Online

There can be few young men who have contributed as much to Britain in recent years as 19-year-old Damilola Ajagbonna. Mr Ajagbonna came to London from Nigeria when he was 11 to live with relatives because his unsupported mother, who suffers from sickle-cell disease, was unable to care for him. He attended the Grieg City Academy in north London where he achieved a formidable academic haul of 13 GCSEs and three A-levels.

But he did considerably more than that at school. Mr Ajagbonna acted as mentor to many troubled children and became a role model for others. Mr Ajagbonna is credited by the academy's head teacher, Paul Sutton, with turning round the school's fortunes. And that was only half of it. In 2005, the United Nations appointed him an adviser on youth issues to Unicef. He has been closely involved in one of the flagship community projects run by the Department of Education and has held prominent roles in the Children's Rights Alliance for England. Mr Ajagbonna has a place at university and hopes to become a teacher.

But the British state has apparently decided that this remarkable young man should not be allowed to impose on our hospitality any longer. When Mr Ajagbonna applied to university he found that his relatives had failed to sort out his immigration status. The mistake has cost him dear. This week, the Court of Appeal turned down Mr Ajagbonna's final appeal for the right to live in the UK. He is now likely to be ordered to return to Nigeria over the next few weeks. His only remaining hope is that the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, will intervene on his behalf.

Mr Ajagbonna did not come here as an illegal immigrant. He is not a failed asylum-seeker. He has not worked in the black economy. He has not committed a crime. But that is precisely the problem. Mr Ajagbonna is a soft target for the authorities because of his hard work and status in the community. This seems to be part of a disturbing trend. The Home Office is going for the low-hanging fruits, those individuals who are living openly and prominently in the UK. Such is the hysteria surrounding immigration in this country that ministers feel that they are under pressure to increase deportations, no matter the consequences. As Mr Ajagbonna puts it: "The immigration rules are not governed by justice any longer, but by the xenophobia of the tabloid press."

What else can explain the sickening recent cases of the deportation of a woman requiring kidney dialysis to Ghana, or the ruling that a 15-year-old boy with sickle-cell disease must be sent back to Nigeria? Ms Smith should put a stop to Mr Ajagbonna's deportation and then turn her attention to reversing this callous and unjust removal policy.