Tory Home secretary Sajid Javid would have us believe he’s got the Windrush scandal under control. But for tens of thousands of people the ordeal isn’t over—and the Tories are scrambling to cover it up.
As many as 50,000 long-term residents of Britain are still being treated as undocumented migrants, meaning they face deportation, losing their job and trouble accessing benefits.
The Home Office has said it is reviewing the cases of some 8,000 people who may have been illegally deported or removed since 2002.
“That’s quite an admission for them because that is a huge amount of people,” lawyer Jacqueline McKenzie told Socialist Worker. She is one of the solicitors representing people affected by the scandal.
But the truth is that the state simply doesn’t know how many people are affected. It’s an indictment of a system that treats people’s lives with such disregard.
Estimates of the amount of people who have been affected hinge on how the Windrush Generation is defined. Is it just people from the Caribbean? What about other Commonwealth countries? And what date marks the cut-off point?
There’s a fight taking place over who can claim to have been treated illegally by the British state.
“I think that the [Windrush] class should be bigger,” said Jacqueline. “If you’re British then why is your child not British? And if your child is, then why not your grandchild?” she asked, referencing some of the most shocking cases in which families have been torn apart.
Jacqueline said Home Office officials said the cut-off date is 1973 at a meeting last Thursday.
Another limit was 1971 and the Immigration Act passed that year which gave Commonwealth citizens indefinite right to remain.
The Act also meant that British passport holders born overseas could only come to live in Britain if they had a work permit and could prove a parent or grandparent had been born in Britain.
Jacqueline said the date has to be much later. “Amber Rudd herself said it would go up to 1979. She also said, on another day, 1988.
“We don’t think that’s correct. Why would it be? What about all the people who came as British citizens after that point whose countries weren’t independent? That’s a big issue.”
But even if the cut-off date is 1973, then there’s still “certainly tens of thousands of people that are affected in some way”.
The Al Jazeera news website spoke to Michael Braithwaite, who arrived in Britain from Barbados more than 50 years ago.
He lost his job and now faces deportation. “If I was deported, I don’t know what I would do,” he said. “To take someone out and just throw them out, like they had no worth.”
Though the Tories may like to limit the focus on people who have been deported—there are many people who face destitution.
“We’re calling for anyone who has a case to let us have it,” said Jacqueline. She and other lawyers are providing Windrush legal advice surgeries at the Black Cultural Archives in Brixton, south London.
Monique Baptiste-Brown works at the archives. She told Socialist Worker they have been inundated with people coming forward.
“We had a public meeting on 28 April that was very well attended,” she said. “We ended up running
42 clinics on that day and since then we’ve been oversubscribed for everything we’ve run so far.”
The wrangling over who counts as a Windrush migrant shows that immigration controls are by nature divisive, discriminatory—and completely arbitrary.
One concrete demand is to scrap the 2014 Immigration Act that enshrined the “hostile environment” in law. Unfortunately the Labour Party has hesitated to even go this far.
But justice for Windrush migrants needs to be about much more than that.
Ultimately it means having to confront the entire racist immigration system, and fighting for the rights of anyone who wants to live in Britain—wherever they’re from, and for whatever reason.
Denied citizenship for ‘bad character’
The Windrush scandal has opened up a debate about the nature of citizenship.
Solange Valdez-Symonds is an immigration solicitor and founder of advice service Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens (PRCBC).
She told Socialist Worker, “Citizenship provides intangible benefits. For the children we have interviewed, it makes them feel part of something. They go to school, and feel ‘I belong here, I was born here’.”
Shockingly, the most common reason for refusing someone citizenship is because they are deemed to have “bad character”.
According to the Home Office this can mean anything from committing terrorism to minor traffic offences.
But the definition also includes drinking, gambling, divorce, promiscuity and eccentric beliefs and appearance.
Some 326 children were refused on this basis between 2010 and 2015.
The “bad character” test is part of the British Nationality Act 1981. It wrote into law that only people with a particular tie to Britain could apply for citizenship.
So if a baby is born in Britain to parents who don’t have immigration papers, citizenship or settled status, they are not automatically a British citizen.
But if a baby is born in another part of the world to parents who do have British citizenship, that is passed on by descent. And the fees of almost £1,000 to apply for citizenship stop many from being able to access it.
Solange says that “children are being removed and deported daily.
“Many children with a right to citizenship are being sent to countries they’ve never been before,” she said.
“Half the children I see were born in the UK. The rest have arrived in the UK as children.”
She was moved to set up the PRCBC after she “saw adults being deported that should have been registered as citizens as children”.
Under the Act children over ten years old are entitled to apply for citizenship. Without it, they live in constant fear of deportation, limited access to jobs, benefits, education and housing.
And the various types of British citizenship that exist show how complicated citizenship is.
If someone is born in what was the British Empire, they would be considered a citizen in some ways, but still be subject to immigration controls.
So those born in Hong Kong are considered “British national (overseas)”, those from the Commonwealth are “British subjects”, and people from the Cayman Islands are under the category “British overseas territories citizen”.
There are three more categories of citizenship. In all of the categories it’s possible to become a citizen if you meet certain strict criteria, but the New Labour and Tory governments have made it systematically harder for people to do this.
For instance, people applying will need to pass a “Life in the UK” test. It’s expensive, at £50 a time, and there are only 60 centres in the UK that do it.
And most of the test is about British history—it does nothing to actually reflect how like the in UK actually is.
Ideas about citizenship form an important ideological part of immigration controls.
By declaring some people “genuine” citizens, who are deserving of the right to be in Britain it automatically excludes others.
Citizenship, or the lack of it, has very real implications for people but it is rooted in a desire to control borders.
Why dealing with the Home Office is ‘particularly nasty’
As the body that enforces the immigration system, the Home Office victimises some of the most vulnerable people in society. It treats those at the sharp end with contempt.
Immigration lawyer Nain Rahman told Socialist Worker that “dealing with the Home Office is particularly nasty because of the political element involved”.
He said immigration lawyers are made to feel that they’re dealing with “dirty immigrants”.
“No one actually says those words but you get the feeling every day that you’re doing something that’s not good,” he said.
“You’re treated with contempt, you’re not given the cooperation you should be given.
“There are systems and procedures laid down which aren’t really complied with.
“It’s very difficult to challenge the Home Office. While you might get to the High Court with an appeal, there’s nothing they’re going to order the Home Office to do.
“We could say that every case like this must be dealt with in six months, but what’s the point in giving such an order?
“It’s not going to happen because there isn’t enough money.”