In the last few weeks, the disgraceful treatment of the Windrush Generation of Commonwealth British citizens has been in the spotlight. Their harrowing experiences illustrate the reality of the government’s policy of creating a “hostile environment” for those that they deem to be illegal immigrants.As this scandal has revealed, the “hostile environment” policy has led to people who came to Britain legally being aggressively denied their rights. They’ve had their indefinite leave to remain removed. They’ve faced the threat of deportation or detention. And some have been denied employment, driving licenses, housing, health care and access to bank accounts.
On top of that, the landing cards that prove their right to remain in the UK were shredded.
Government ministers have claimed that the experience of members of the Windrush generation is an unintended consequence of the hostile environment policy. That’s an outrageous claim, clearly made in bad faith. Their own legislation on immigration has removed the legal protections longstanding Commonwealth residents previous enjoyed.
During the passage of both the 2014 and 2016 Immigration Acts, many organisations including the TUC pointed out that the legislation would result in racial profiling of members of Britain’s longstanding Black communities. We warned it would undermine access to jobs, accommodation and public services.
The government was not listening. Although Britain has some of the most restrictive immigration and nationality laws in the world, ministers convinced the public that immigration was out of control and that the previous Labour government had allowed a policy where anybody could walk into Britain.
They were obsessed with reducing migrant numbers. And while they could not limit the movement of those with EU free moment rights, they created a situation where enforcement agencies could target anyone that was vulnerable under Britain’s increasingly draconian immigration and nationality laws.
The heart-breaking stories that have received coverage in the Guardian include that of Paulette Wilson. Pauline moved to the UK in 1968 and worked and raised her daughter here. She was taken to Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre and almost forced on to a plane to Jamaica.
Anthony Bryan was threatened with removal after 52 years in the UK. Albert Thompson, who needed healthcare treatment for prostate cancer in November, was told that unless he could produce a British passport he would be charged £54,000. The stories demonstrate the callous disregard the UK Border Agency shows for people’s lives, in the name of government policy.
Theresa May's apology to the House of Commons at Prime Ministers question time and the establishment of a government hotline for people who are under threat does not solve the problem.
The Government's way of dealing with this scandal has been adopting a strategy of plausible deniability. Ministers have denied knowledge or responsibility for the actions committed by others UK Borders. In the meantime, they are busily creating a situation where people who came here as British citizens are expected to prove their citizenship.
While the focus has been on those that have been detained or deported there are thousands of people that are still in danger of losing their jobs, being denied healthcare, thrown out of their accommodation or stripped of their driving licences or bank accounts.
We need urgent action to stop the misery that has been exposed by this scandal. Not only for members of the Windrush generation, but for long-standing UK residents that legitimately moved to Britain as citizens from all over the Commonwealth.
The TUC is calling on the government to immediately
The TUC believes that the current immigration system is institutionally racist, and adversely affects people from Black and Minority Ethnic communities.
There’s an urgent need to investigate the full extent of the damage that the policy of creating a hostile environment has done to the lives of people who have a legitimate right to live in the UK and access public services. And those responsible for failures should be identified.
The TUC is therefore calling for an official independent inquiry into the insidious immigration policies and practices that have impacted so adversely and gravely on the Windrush Generation.