The Windrush scandal
The Immigration Act 2014 provided for people to be liable to immediate deportation if they could not prove their right to remain in the UK. Not only that, it prohibited landlords from providing premises to such people and the NHS and banks from providing their services. It denied them the right to have a driving licence or, worst of all, to be employed. This amounted not only to harassment of illegal immigrants, whom all the bourgeois parties like to blame for the ills of capitalism, but its effect could only be to subject minority communities to everyday discrimination by forcing them constantly to prove their British citizenship or their right to remain if they have a dark skin, a foreign name, or speak with a foreign accent. The Bill was passed by the House of Commons by 303 votes to 18. Only 6 Labour MPs voted against this racist measure—the rest abstained.
Stories of the negative effect of this legislation on people who did in fact have an indefinite right to remain in the UK, and who have lived here for decades, began to trickle into the press late in 2017, but the issue only began to gain traction after a man calling himself Albert Thompson – not his real name – was the subject of a petition circulated on 12 March through Change.org calling for him to be allowed free radio therapy on the NHS for his cancer. The petition read:
“Albert Thompson, 63 years old, has lived in London for 44 years. He has prostate cancer. After major surgery, he arrived for his first radiotherapy session to be taken aside and told that unless he can prove he is legally entitled to live in the UK he will have to pay the full £54,000 for his treatment upfront.
“For 3 decades, Albert has paid taxes to the British Government. He arrived from Jamaica as a teenager. He has no money and he needs our help.
“That’s why I’m calling for the Home Office to deal with Albert’s status in the UK so his treatment can be approved right away.
“Cancer doesn’t wait.
“Having been a primary carer for loved ones who have had cancer, I know that it is expensive, frightening and depressing. People who do not have a lot of savings or support from elsewhere struggle massively financially, and Albert has been unable to work for some years now due to cancer so has nothing. Even with appropriate support, cancer is a lonely and terrifying journey. I can’t imagine the despair that this man must be feeling right now.
“This is part of a much wider issue too, of people who originally came from Commonwealth countries now not being recognised as legal citizens – despite living in our country for many, many years and contributing in the same way we do. Let’s stand up for their rights – and stand up to the increasingly harsh landscape that the Home Office is creating for innocent people that are relying on their country’s support at the hardest times in their lives.”
The petition does not mention other torments that had been inflicted on Albert Thompson as a result of his being unable to prove his right to remain in the UK: “He was evicted from his rented flat because his landlord wanted to sell it. Tenants must now produce a British passport in order to rent accommodation. As Albert …does not have a passport, he could not find a home.
“‘I was on the streets for three weeks. I had to beg for food. I felt ashamed. I just asked people in shops if they had anything spare.’
“After three weeks, Albert had managed to secure a room through a homeless charity, St Mungo’s. He still lives in that accommodation now” (Frances Hardy, Mail Online, 14 April 2018).
After this petition was circulated, it soon dawned on the public conscience that Albert’s was not an isolated case. Literally thousands of people are liable to find themselves treated as illegal immigrants despite the legislation in 1971 that gave them the right to remain. To be precise, the Immigration Act 1971, which took away from Commonwealth citizens any right to come to live in the UK and took effect on 1 January 1973, did provide that Commonwealth citizens who were already present and settled in the UK on this date were deemed to have settled status, and this was without resort to any kind of documentation, though it could be lost if the person concerned left the country for a period of two years or more.
Until the 2014 Immigration Act this usually (though by no means always) worked all right. However, the 2014 Act imposed on all individuals in the UK who did not hold a UK passport an obligation to prove they had a right to remain if they wanted to hold a job, rent premises, hold a driving licence, use the NHS, claim benefits or a state pension, or open or retain a bank account. They became liable to becoming unemployed if they were unable to prove their settled status, even from jobs they had held for years. But ‘help’ was at hand: they could apply to the Home Office for a biometric No Time Limit biometric immigration document! Many people did and no doubt many were granted despite the £229 fee! There were cases, however, where the Home Office ‘lost’ the documents that were sent to them in support of the application (even though the desperate applicant, sacked from his employment and/or evicted from his rented accommodation, had proof that the documents had been delivered!). To obtain the necessary proof of the right to remain, applicants had not only to complete a 21-page application form and pay the fee, but also to supply 4 proofs of residence in the UK FOR EACH YEAR OF THEIR RESIDENCE SINCE 1973 (in order to show they had not been absent for two years or more). In fact, Foreign Office Minister Alan Duncan admitted he would not be able to meet the tough tests to prove nationality demanded of Windrush immigrants, but then he is not black, does not speak with a foreign accent and does not have a foreign name, so he will never have to.
Here are some of the heartbreaking stories that have come to light in recent days:
Nick Broderick, 63, came to the UK when he was 3 years of age, i.e., in 1958. “Mr Broderick’s Kafkaesque nightmare began in 2014, when immigration officials visited the recruitment firm where he had worked for 18 years as a minibus driver to check for illegal workers…” He was asked to provide proof of citizenship but, having never been abroad, did not have a passport. “The Home Office eventually gave him paperwork to apply for indefinite leave to remain but that was lost by UK officials, despite records showing the documents had been delivered.” Since a protection that exempted Commonwealth residents from enforced removal had been removed under the 2014 law (Theresa May was Home Secretary at the time), he was threatened with deportation. Although he has managed to avoid that fate for the moment, “The administrative fiasco meant he was stopped from working 14 months ago yet has been unable to claim benefits. He is also forbidden from accessing health care on the NHS, his bank account was closed and he cannot get legal aid to help him fight his case.” His humiliation has included having to sign on at a police station every month to prove he has not absconded. The result of all this is that he has seriously been considering suicide.
Dexter Bristol came to Britain from Grenada in 1968 but after 2014 he was classified as an illegal immigrant, denied benefits and sacked from his job because he had no passport. As he desperately tried to untangle his immigration status with the Home Office, he faced long delays.
“On March 31, he keeled over in the street outside his home in east London and could not be revived. ...
“Mrs Bristol [Dexter’s mother] told the ‘Guardian’: ‘A child came to this country eight years old and spent 50 years… this is their home. Very unfair. I’m very, very angry and I’m grieving at the moment and frustrated.
“’Dexter was very depressed over this legal situation. He said if he doesn’t get his passport, they said they are going to cut off his benefit, he is going to lose his flat and he can’t afford to do that.’
“Mr Bristol’s lawyer, Jacqueline McKenzie, said: ‘He would come into the office and say: ‘Will I ever get my passport?’ We saw him get more and more depressed and anxious. He died being denied an immigration status which was rightfully his.’
“A Home Office spokesman said Mr Bristol ‘made no applications to the Home Office and was not the subject of any removal action’.
“Mr Bristol’s family say the reason he made no application was that he was struggling to gather all the necessary documents before paying the expensive fee” (Ian Drury, Mail Online, 18 April 2018)
Junior Green, “61, fought back tears as he recalled how he was not allowed to board a plane back to Britain. It meant he had to watch his mother’s funeral on a video phone call and was not there to support his family after her death.”
“Mr Green was born in Jamaica but came to Britain with his mother Joyce in 1958 when he was a year old. The security guard has lived and worked here ever since. In 1993 he received a letter confirming he had indefinite leave to stay” (Andrew Levy, Daily Mail, 18 April 2018). Yet in spite of that, he was refused entry into his homeland, i.e., the UK, because he could not prove he had the right to remain!
Paulette Wilson, a former cook at the House of Commons, came to Britain from Jamaica in 1968.
Lord Faulkner took up her case, saying to the House of Lords: "(She) had never applied for a passport because she assumed she would not need one if she did not intend to travel abroad".
"One day, she got a letter from the Home Office telling her to register each month at the Solihull immigration centre.
"While she was there on a visit, officials declared that she was an illegal immigrant, had her carted off to the appalling Yarl’s Wood immigration removal complex and told her that she would be deported – presumably back to Jamaica, which she had not visited since she left as a child almost 50 years before"(BBC, 11 April 2018).
She was saved from deportation by the intervention of her MP and has now been given leave to remain, but, said Lord Faulkner, "she has lost benefits for the past two years, as well as her flat, and has to rely on financial support from her daughter" (ibid.).
Although some measures are now being taken to make it easier for undocumented people with the right to remain to secure the necessary immigration document, absolutely no mention has been made of any proposal to compensate them for their losses of wages, pensions or benefits, let alone for the pain and suffering to which they have been subjected.
The Independent of 20 April highlights a case which shows that even children born in the UK of Windrush immigrants can be caught in a nightmarish limbo since under the 1971 a person born in the UK has no right to British citizenship unless at least one of their parents has the right to remain:
“The son of a Windrush immigrant has been forced to declare himself as ‘stateless’ after he was threatened with deportation despite being born in the UK.
“Jay, now in his twenties, has been repeatedly denied a British passport because of a lack of clarity over his mother’s status after she came from Jamaica as a child. He was forced to become a stateless citizen after the Home Office threatened to remove him from the country in 2016.
“Speaking to ‘The Independent’, Jay said he had been fighting a ‘constant battle’ to be recognised as British, spending hundreds of pounds and sending dozens of letters in failed attempts to secure his status.
“The young man, who was born in Birmingham and now lives in east London, said he was left feeling ‘excluded’ from society and unable to pursue career goals due to being unable to travel abroad. …
“Jay, who was placed in foster care as a baby, first became aware of the issues surrounding his status in the UK when his foster parents wanted to take him abroad on holiday and were unable to get him a passport.
“’There were certain trips that the school and the college would organise, which I obviously couldn’t go on. And I wouldn’t be able to explain why, I’d just say I can’t go’, he says…
“’As I got older it started to affect things that I wanted to do in my life. I had opportunities to go compete in competitions as part of my career and I couldn’t’.
“Jay applied for a passport as a teenager and was told he was not eligible because of a lack of information about his mother, from whom he was estranged, even though he was able to provide her birth certificate.
“Determined to resolve the situation, he wrote to numerous MPs pleading for their help, but while many tried to make contact with the Home Office, they were unable to change the decision.
“In 2016 Jay received a deportation notice from the Home Office after applying for a passport for the third time. He was told he was not eligible and that in order to remain he must declare himself as ‘stateless’.
“’They said they were going to send me back to Jamaica. I’ve never been to Jamaica,’ Jay said. ‘In order to stay here I had to declare myself as a stateless person. It feels embarrassing to be classed as a stateless person. The word alone – it’s very degrading” (May Bulman and Helen Hoddinott, The Independent, 20 April 2018).
Jay’s plight obviously arose well before the 2014 Immigration Act, but the Act made matters much worse by extending the net far wider. Jay’s difficulties arose only because he had to apply for a British passport, but under the 2014 Act people are affected also when they try to open bank accounts, apply for jobs, try to rent a flat, seek treatment from the NHS, etc. The problem is further compounded by a government that set low immigration targets in order to appease the anti-immigrant feelings of the large number of UK citizens who have regrettably fallen for the endlessly-repeated bourgeois lie that immigrants are responsible for the ills of capitalism. As Satbir Singh, the CEO of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants explains:
“… May announced as early as 2013 her intention to create, in her own words, ‘a really hostile environment’, sending her now infamous ‘go home’ vans to six London boroughs, and outsourcing immigration enforcement to doctors, nurses and teachers. Targets were increased for Home Office staff, creating strong incentives to avoid thinking of applicants as people and to turn down applications to enter the country for as little as a typo. And upon this rock they built their church, David Cameron and May committing the government to bringing net migration down to below 100,000 a year, a target that the government has never met.
“Where did that number come from? You can ask pretty much any expert on this issue and they’ll give you the same answer: thin air. There’s no industry expert, thinktank, lobby group, trade union and certainly no branch of the NHS that decided that a singular obsession with this suspiciously round number would guide us towards greater social cohesion or undo the consequences of the financial crisis, the recession or austerity…”. And the result is that “…we now live in a country in which immigration is something to be ‘controlled’, ‘brought down’, ‘mitigated’. Immigration – and by extension immigrants – are a problem. There is a firm ceiling on the number of people who can come here and contribute, regardless of what industry says; on the number of us who can have a wife or a grandmother living in the same country. We live in a country in which victims reporting crimes to the police are handed over to immigration enforcement officials if their papers aren’t in order. In which people die in detention centres or languish in them for years. In which half of all appeals find that the Home Office has made the wrong decision, while the Home Office makes an 800% profit on its mistakes” (‘Theresa May’s thuggish stance on migrants caused the Windrush scandal’, The Guardian, 18 April 2018).
.In fact, The Guardian of 14 January 2014 exposed the fact that immigration staff at the Home Office were being given incentives in the form of shopping vouchers, extra holiday entitlement and the like for maintaining a 70% or higher rate of refusal of asylum claims. While the Windrush victims are not asylum seekers, the existence of such a scheme demonstrates the extent to which the whole department has been deliberately imbued with a culture of keeping the foreigners out, rather than making any objective assessment of the facts of individual cases, a culture that inevitably strongly discourages the use of discretion in favour of applicants even in cases of special hardship (Diane Taylor and Rowena Mason, ‘Home Office staff rewarded with gift vouchers for fighting off asylum cases’).
It was in her effort to hit the absurd 100,000 target that Theresa May, as Home Secretary, dreamt up the ‘hostile environment’, with the idea that, with life being made so unpleasant for them, people who had entered or remained in the country illegally would voluntarily depart. It is now of course being claimed that the ‘hostile environment’ was not intended to impact on people with a legitimate right to remain, but in fact there is plenty of evidence to show that concerns were raised on such people’s behalf before the legislation was passed, but the government just did not care:
“The Home Office was warned by its own officials that a toughening up of immigration laws could hit older immigrants such as the Windrush generation, it emerged last night.
“The warning came in an internal assessment on the impact of changes to the ‘right to rent’ scheme, introduced in 2014…
“… the 11-page paper, which did not specifically mention the Windrush generation, warned: ‘Some non-UK born older people may have additional difficulties in providing original documentation.
“Some may have had their immigration records destroyed. Some will have originally come into the country under old legislation but may have difficulty in evidencing this” (Jack Doyle, Mail Online, 18 April 2018).
However, what interest can you expect those bent on keeping all foreigners out of the UK (unless, of course, they are very rich oligarchs and money-launderers!) in the inconvenience that was likely to be caused to a few thousand elderly working class black people?
In fact, Theresa May was implicated in a decision taken in 2009, by a Labour government, but implemented in 2010 when she was Home Secretary, to destroy the landing cards which were regularly used to establish the right to remain of people applying for British passports. Again she was warned that such destruction could cause immense problems for such people – again she didn’t care.
“[Officials] argued that the landing cards would not have helped solve the problem of Windrush migrants proving they were resident in Britain.
“However, a former Home Office official contradicted that claim. The worker, speaking anonymously, told the ‘Guardian’ that landing card information was used regularly in decision-making work during the 1980s. She said the database was important because ‘it would show who else arrived with you; it would show the parents and the children that they brought with them’.”
It has subsequently come to light that the landing cards were in constant use in establishing the right to remain of passport applicants:
“A former Home Office employee said the records, stored in the basement of a government tower block, were a vital resource for case workers when they were asked to find information about someone’s arrival date in the UK from the West Indies – usually when the individual was struggling to resolve immigration status problems…
“The former employee (who has asked for his name not to be printed) said it was decided in 2010 to destroy the disembarkation cards, which dated back to the 1950s and 60s, when the Home Office’s Whitgift Centre in Croydon was closed and the staff were moved to another site. Employees in his department told their managers it was a bad idea, because these papers were often the last remaining record of a person’s arrival date, in the event of uncertainty or lost documents. The files were destroyed in October that year, when Theresa May was home secretary…
“When staff were asked to find evidence of an arrival from the Caribbean or other former colonies and had difficulty tracing any other records, senior officers would request the key to the basement of the neighbouring building and consult the landing cards. They recorded the names, dates of arrival and in some cases the name of the ship” (Amelia Gentleman, ‘Home Office destroyed Windrush landing cards, says ex-staffer’, The Guardian, 17 April 2018).
When the scandal broke, Theresa May’s initial response was indifference. She refused to intervene to help Albert Thompson, although this was literally a case of life or death and it was a practical certainty that he had the right to remain though he had been unable up to then to prove it to the absurdly high standard of proof demanded by the authorities. She subsequently refused to discuss the matter with the Heads of Commonwealth who were in London for a conference, but was subsequently forced to change her mind, and later still to apologise to the people whose right to remain had been denied. In any event her Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, was not prepared to be seen trying to defend an indefensible position:
“The British home secretary has delivered an unprecedented apology for the ‘appalling’ actions of her own department towards Windrush-era citizens, acknowledging that the Home Office had ‘lost sight of individuals’ and become ‘too concerned with policy’.
“In the face of mounting criticism, Amber Rudd announced the creation of a new Home Office team, staffed by 20 officials, dedicated to ensuring that Commonwealth-born long-term UK residents will no longer find themselves classified as illegal immigrants. She promised that cases would be resolved within two weeks and application fees would be waived….
“A colleague of Rudd’s, immigration minister Caroline Nokes, earlier appeared to suggest that people had been deported in error back to countries they left as children for not having the right documents…(Amelia Gentleman, ‘Windrush-era citizens row: timeline of key events’, The Guardian, 16 April 2018).
There was then a rush to say that there had not been any, or at least many, deportations – only for a Home Office leaflet prepared for people deported to Jamaica in 2013 to be produced:
“A Government guide given to Jamaican deportees advises them to fake a ‘local accent’ to help them stay safe.
“’Try to be Jamaican,’ it says. ‘Use local accents and dialects (overseas accents can attract unwanted attention)’” (Harriet Agerholm, ‘UK government guide advises people being deported to Jamaica to fake Caribbean accent to avoid attention’, The Independent, 17 April 2018). Words fail us!!!
Theresa May then announced to parliament that Albert Thompson’s problems had been resolved and that he would be receiving the NHS treatment he was in urgent need of – only nobody had informed either Albert Thompson or the Royal Marsden Hospital where he was being treated, although Ms May claimed the decision had been taken in consultation with his clinicians!
We leave the last word of this shameful saga to Gary Younge, editor-at-large of The Guardian commenting on the unjust immigration laws:
“Theresa May is not apologising for creating a ‘hostile environment’, expressly designed to spread fear in immigrant communities, when she was home secretary. She is simply conceding that the Home Office has been hostile to the wrong people. The apology, as it stands, is not for the existence of a policy that is unfair, unjust and discriminatory and causes anxiety, penury and despair, but for the ostensible misapplication of it. Over the past week, the official regrets have been too narrowly tailored, the memories too selective, the mendacity too brazen and the callousness too pernicious to see the government’s parsed and partial expressions of remorse as anything other than an insult to our intelligence”. (‘With Windrush, Theresa May mistook a national treasure for an easy target’, The Guardian, 20 April 2018).
PS As we go to press we learn of a comical irony from the Sunday Times of 22 April 2018: Adrian Bovelle, an immigration officer working at the Dover immigration removal centre, who has lived in the UK since 1967, is himself threatened with deportation even though his Barbadian passport has “indefinite leave to remain” stamped on it, along with the serial number of the immigration officer who placed it in there. His officious colleagues have demanded he prove the stamp is not a forgery! (See Nicholas Hellen, ‘Immigration official in fear of deportation’).