National disgrace

It is a national disgrace that the Home Office has been hounding and harassing and threatening to deport West Indians who entered this country legally 50 or 60 years ago, who have worked all their lives for employers like London Transport and the National Health Service, paid their taxes, brought up families, and who are now being told they’re here illegally because the Home Office has failed to keep records.

David Lammy, MP for Tottenham, has kept the pressure up so that politicians across all parties are now on the offensive for the appalling treatment of people, like 61 year old Paulette Wilson who came here from Jamaica when she was 10 and has never applied for a passport, so had no papers proving her right to be in the UK. According to Guardian journalist Amelia Gentleman ‘she was sent to the immigration removal centre at Yarl’s Wood in Bedford for a week, and then taken to Heathrow for deportation to Jamaica, a country she had not visited for 50 years and where she has no surviving relatives’. Only last minute intervention from a charity saved her from being deported. 60 year old Anthony Bryan lost his job when ‘Capita wrote to him informing him he had no right to be in the UK’, saying his employer could face a £10,000 fine if it continued to employ him as an “illegal worker”. He has spent three weeks in immigration removal centres, ‘despite having lived in the UK for more than half a century’.

Amber Rudd has now apologised. Immigration minister Caroline Nokes has admitted they’d ‘made some mistakes’ but pinned the blame on low level staff rather than taking responsibility for her department’s heavy handed bullying. Time and again on the BBC’s Daily Politics show yesterday she said she would make sure senior staff would be handling cases sensitively from now on. It is hard to credit that anyone should think it ok to send someone to a detention centre for not being able to present four types of documentation for each year they’ve lived here, but completely misses the point that civil servants and agency staff carry out Government policy. Caroline Nokes blames her staff. Amber Rudd blames Theresa May. Under her tenure as Home Secretary, Rudd said the Home Office had become “too concerned with policy and strategy and sometimes loses sight of the individual”.

Hostile environment

Theresa May has boasted about creating a ‘hostile environment’ for illegal immigrants. MP for Brentford and Isleworth Ruth Cadbury told me it’s clear from the cases she gets in her surgery that the Home Office has succeeded in creating a hostile environment for immigrants, legal or illegal. By making employers, landlords and NHS receptionists the gatekeepers of immigration law, they force people to come forward to get Home Office proof of their legal status and “the people on the front line are being forced to make arbitrary decisions”.

Earnie Gibbs had no idea he was considered an illegal immigrant until he applied for a passport two years ago. His parents had come here from Grenada in the late 1950s, answering the call to work in the UK to help Britain get back on its feet after the war. Earnie followed in 1960, aged nine and has lived and worked in Britain continuously. Now living in Isleworth, he has a daughter and grandchildren here. Over the years he had travelled abroad several times on temporary British Visitor passports to go on holiday, but when he applied for a permanent passport, because of a change in the law he was turned down. Ruth says he received a ‘very rude’ letter from Capita telling him he had to ‘go home’ and asking him what plane he would be on. He got a solicitor and two years on has a biometric card proving his right to remain. But it is temporary. It will be reviewed and he doesn’t trust that the Home Office will renew it. Nor is he sure whether he will be allowed NHS treatment in his old age.

This is no way to treat people who have given their lives to this country. On David Lammy’s urging, the Labour party is calling for the Windrush generation to be given permanent leave to remain and to be compensated for the cost of having to fight to prove they came here legally.

The Home Office now has a team of 20 people dedicated to sorting this out over the next two weeks, but with a population of 50,000 people who came here from the West Indies as children in the 1950s and ’60s, even with my poor maths I can see that’s not going to be enough to sort out this mess (250 cases solved per civil servant, per day?) and the hurt and anger caused by it will take much longer to overcome.