Windrush: No end to racist immigration policy in sight

Windrush protest

Two months after the Windrush scandal broke, over 2,000 people have been issued documentation allowing them to stay in Britain and over 500 more have been granted citizenship. However, only a quarter of those identified as potentially having been illegally deported have been contacted by the Home Office, while many other Windrush citizens remain, destitute, out of work or continue to be denied healthcare. Compensation is currently nowhere in sight, and politicians across the board continue to use the Windrush affair to reinforce the distinction between Windrush citizens who deserve justice, and ‘illegal immigrants’ who do not. Seamus Padraic reports.

Following Labour MP David Lammy’ s intervention in Parliament on 16 April, and due to widespread public sympathy for victims of the Windrush scandal, the Home Office quickly set up administrative machinery – ‘the Windrush taskforce’ – to provide its version of justice. Its purpose is to ensure that no further Windrush citizens are classified as ‘illegal immigrants’ and to assist those considered legitimate Windrush cases to get their documents in order and ensure their settled status in Britain. To this end, 150 Home Office employees have been appointed to conduct record checks and operate a Windrush ‘helpline’, which by the end of May had been contacted by almost 15,000 people.

From this early stage, the boundaries were strictly set. The taskforce will only deal with those who arrived before 1 January 1973, the cut-off date set by the Immigration Act 1971 which finally destroyed the citizenship rights of people from the Commonwealth, plus any children or spouses of Commonwealth citizens who were born or arrived in Britain up to 1988 - the date of the later Immigration Act which stripped spouses and children of such residency rights. On 30 May the ‘helpline’ was augmented with a formal application process.

On 2 May, Home Secretary Sajid Javid - who replaced Amber Rudd, after she was forced to resign after repeatedly misleading Parliament over deportation targets (see FRFI 264) - announced that a review of the ‘lessons learned’ was underway. This has since been criticised for only bringing in an independent chair, Wendy Williams, several weeks into its existence. The review’s stated purpose is to draw out ‘how members of the Windrush generation came to be entangled in measures designed for illegal immigrants, why that was not spotted sooner and whether the right corrective measures are now in place’ [emphasis added]. The government carefully shifts the responsibility for the effects of its racist policies on to the people who, by implication, were careless enough to end up as its victims.

On 10 May, the Home Office announced the opening of a consultation period on the Windrush compensation scheme, which would run until 8 June. Javid has stated that compensation claims will probably only cover financial losses. Additionally, there will be no ‘interim compensation’: no hardship fund for Windrush citizens left impoverished or homeless by the loss of jobs or accommodation. Compensation may have already been paid out to a handful of victims, who have apparently been asked to sign non-disclosure agreements.

Despite the passage of new legislation, the Immigration and Nationality (Requirements for Naturalisation and Fees) (Amendment) Regulations 2018, the ‘Windrush scheme’ is not an amnesty. Applications can be turned down, and there is no right of appeal. While all application fees are being waived and applicants are exempt from the English language and ‘Life in the UK’ tests, ‘residence’ and ‘good character’ requirements remain for naturalisation. Home Office guidance clearly states that taskforce staff ‘should ensure that the person is aware the status document will not be accepted to prove a person’s right to work, rent or access services and benefits in a compliant environment’. Thousands of Commonwealth citizens, then, potentially remain stripped of employment, accommodation and other rights. Despite promises that no information provided to the taskforce will be passed on to Immigration Enforcement, the Joint Council on the Welfare of Immigrants is recommending that applicants seek legal advice before speaking to the taskforce, following the arrest of a 62-year-old Jamaican man at a taskforce appointment.

According to Javid, as of 11 July the Home Office had issued documentation confirming leave to remain to 2,125 Windrush cases. Of these, 1,014 were born in Jamaica, 207 in Barbados, 93 in India, 88 in Grenada, 85 in Trinidad and Tobago, and 638 in other countries. In the same period, 524 people were granted citizenship through the Windrush taskforce. Meanwhile, the Home Office has found 63 cases of potentially illegal deportation. Of these, 32 were ‘foreign national offenders’ and 31 were administrative removals. In a letter to the chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC), a cross-party body of MPs, Javid explained that the 31 were being ‘proactively contacted via the taskforce.’ So far, the taskforce has made contact with 14 out of the 31, while the rights of the 32 ‘offenders’ are being ignored. As of 22 May, according to immigration minister Caroline Nokes, 42% of overseas calls to the helpline had been from non-Caribbean Commonwealth countries including Nigeria, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Australia. Both Labour Party spokespeople and HASC have called for assurances that non-Caribbean Commonwealth citizens will be assisted by the Windrush scheme.

Criticism by HASC, sections of the Labour Party many outside of Parliament has focused on the ‘hostile environment’ - a set of policies and practices established since 2012 when then Home Secretary Theresa May announced that she wished to create ‘a really hostile environment for migrants’. By making life as unpleasant as possible through denying basic rights to healthcare, housing, employment, a bank account or a driving license, the stated aim of the hostile environment is to encourage ‘voluntary’ deportations. Its impact has been to push migrants into the poorest housing and the least desirable employment, re-enforcing the super-exploited position of migrants within the working class in Britain.

On 3 June Javid announced that many of the measures that make up the hostile environment, which he prefers to call a ‘compliant environment’, were to be reviewed. Ten days later, he announced that the hostile environment would be ‘halted’. The reality is less dramatic than the spin:  data sharing between the Home Office and the DVLA, DWP and HMRC, as well as banks and building societies, will be suspended for those over 30 (ie born before the implementation of the Immigration Act 1988) for three months. Data sharing arrangements with the Department for Education remain in place, and landlords, employers and hospital staff will continue to carry out some of the key checks that make up the hostile environment. Nokes insisted that the pause was ‘temporary’ and that she would not re-authorise data sharing between government departments and other organisations until she was confident ‘that we will not be impacting on further members of the Windrush generation’.

Writing in The Guardian on 18 July, the journalist responsible for much of the investigative coverage of the Windrush scandal, Amelia Gentleman, revealed that the government had ignored repeated warnings about the treatment of Windrush citizens dating back to 2013.* High Commissioners of a series of Caribbean countries have repeatedly alerted the Home Office to the problem, to no avail, and the government ignored a 2014 warning laid out in a research paper, as well as ignoring the issue when formally raised by Caribbean foreign ministers with then-Home Secretary Philip Hammond in 2016 at the biannual UK-Caribbean forum in the Bahamas.

On 3 July HASC published a preliminary report into the Windrush affair and into immigration policy more broadly. The report is ‘not a full inquiry’, due to the reluctance of the Home Office to provide certain key pieces of information, says the committee. The report warns that without reform, ‘this will happen again for another group of people’ and calls the rebranding of the hostile environment as the ‘compliant environment’ ‘meaningless.’

During its investigation, the committee heard from Home Office Permanent Secretary Sir Philip Rutman, who provided details of performance targets in place for enforced removals as early as 2000 (under Labour), which were referred to in a variety of different ways, such as ‘objectives’, ‘business goals’ or ‘levels of ambition.’ Rutman also acknowledged that immigration enforcement staff received performance bonuses for good work, some of which was related to removals. When asked by HASC whether he would scrap the overall net migration target, introduced in 2010 of reducing immigration to ‘tens of thousands’, Javid replied ‘next question!’ He has also told the Committee that there will remain ‘an objective to bring net migration down to sustainable levels’, although he would not discuss numbers.

Unsurprisingly, the HASC report operates entirely within the framework laid out in the launch statement of the Windrush lessons learned review, arguing that ‘members of the Windrush generation have become caught by policies designed for those in the country unlawfully’ (emphasis added). The call for ‘root and branch’ reform is designed to tighten, not undermine, Britain’s racist immigration system. The net migration target, for example, should be ‘replaced’ not because of its human impact, but   because it does not suit the specific needs of the British state: it ‘includes immigration and emigration, lawful and unlawful migration.’ A further concern is ‘to rebuild credibility’; and the ‘re-evaluation’ of the hostile environment ought to assess its ‘efficacy, fairness, impact (including both intended and unintended consequences) and value for money.’

Both Javid and Nokes have defended the ‘compliant environment’, and maintain the position that Windrush citizens ‘came to be entangled’ in measures designed for others. The Labour Party, on the other hand, announced on 15 May that it would scrap the hostile environment entirely. Writing in The Guardian on 29 June, Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott repeated her pledge to repeal the 2014 Immigration Act, end targets and staff bonuses for removals, end indefinite detention and the breaking-up of families, and shut down Yarl’s Wood and Brook House detention centres. She did not mention the eight other detention centres currently in operation, all but one of which were established by the last Labour government.

These are welcome proposals, but it would be a mistake to think that Labour is developing an anti-racist standpoint. In the same article in which she defended the Windrush generation, attacked the hostile environment, and pledged to end ‘some of the worst abuses in the system’, Abbott strongly reinforced the distinction between ‘Windrush citizens’ and less deserving migrants: ‘Whenever the issue of the Windrush scandal has been raised, Ministers have sought to conflate the issue with that of illegal immigration. Naturally, migrants who came here illegally should be removed.’

According to Abbott ‘you can either have an efficient, fair and humane immigration system that works for all of us, or you can have baseless numerical targets for immigration and deportations. You can’t have both.’ Javid also says he is committed to a ‘fair and humane’ immigration system. The Windrush affair demonstrates that in an imperialist country, there can be no such thing. Anti-racists must stand against all Britain’s immigration controls, and must combat all those who attempt to split migrants into those ‘deserving’ and those ‘undeserving’ of rights.



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