The Windrush Scandal proves the government can’t be trusted to renegotiate our border policies

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Amber Rudd took a bullet for Theresa May in the immediate aftermath the Windrush scandal, stepping down is because she ‘inadvertently mislead Parliament’. But really, it’s the current prime minister, now in charge of Brexit, who is really to blame for the disastrous immigration policies which lead to the deportation of Black British citizens. We should all be concerned that the chief architect of the ‘hostile environment’ is now heading up the renegotiation of Britain’s border policies.

A hostile legacy

It was Theresa May who, during her six years as Home Secretary (the longest tenure since WWII), introduced and designed the ‘hostile environment’ that became Amber Rudd’s accidental legacy. Theresa May has yet to take responsibility for her design and creation of this system that has, seemingly intentionally and systematically targeted and harassed British citizens who originally migrated to the UK from parts of the Commonwealth.

So much so that the entire energies of the Home Office have been devoted to implementing its immigration policy. The Windrush generation, who have been incorrectly and cruelly targeted by Home Office officials, have had the misfortune to be victims of a system that has failed to protect them as British Citizens. Specific legal protection for the Windrush generation was removed from the statute books in the 2014 Immigration Act when the specific clause was omitted without consultation or debate.

May’s approach to immigration is well documented. In 2016 she noted that her prefered strategy for handling migration and asylum claims was to lock people up, rather than dealing with those claims in the community. Her approach to civil liberties was described as ‘careless’.

As Home Secretary, she conceived strategies and policies to cut net migration figures – which reached a high of 330,000 in June 2015 – including splitting up families, enforcing English language use requirements, and removing overseas students from the figure.  

George Osborne, then the Chancellor of the Executor, said of Theresa May’s migration reduction plans, “They’re not government proposals. I’m not aware that there has been any agreement in the government or any hard and fast proposals that have been discussed. As I say, these are not government policy; we are not advancing them.” In 2015 it was reported that Osborne had plans to increase net immigration to achieve a budget surplus at the end of the parliament. These plans were in opposition those of Home Secretary Theresa May – who was determined to fulfil the Conservative party pledge to reduce net immigration figures to tens of thousands.

At the beginning of the media outcry of the Windrush scandal, the Home Office issued a statement confirming that the Government continues to implement its ‘compliant environment’ whilst making “no apologies for our commitment to build an immigration system which works in the best interest of the country.”

Racist policy-making

These are the people in charge of the ongoing renegotiation of the UK’s borders. We are currently at the crux of a debate over the future of migrants to Britain – from free movement for EU citizens to the legal parameters of how the UK can treat migrants in detention. We should all be wary of the fact that this mammoth task is in the hands of an administration which has shown little concern for the lives of migrants – and for the Black British citizens who get targeted because of extreme anti-migrant policies. The renegotiation of border policies and human rights provisions gives the government room to double down on policies which primarily target non-white migrants and citizens of colour.

The Conservative and Unionist Party Manifesto (2017) reaffirmed May’s commitment to “continue to bear down on immigration from outside the European Union.” People from ‘outside the European Union’ is frequently code for anyone who can’t pass as white British. Most people who overstay their visas are from non-EU countries of the US, Australia and Canada – but as Gurminder Bhambra has pointed out, areas of high-Canadian density aren’t those visited by the ‘Go Home’ vans.

In 2015 the Tory Government promised to extend to all immigration appeals and judicial reviews their ‘deport first, appeal later’ rule initially applied solely to foreign national offenders. These promises are the foundation stones for discriminatory practices against Windrush British citizens, mainly elderly people of colour.

The Conservatives previously promised to “build a[n immigration] system that truly puts you, your family and the British people first.” But clearly, this vision of ‘British people’ did not did not view this cohort as British. Ignoring and erasing Black British communities is an act of representational violence – which, when generalised to government policy which deports people, which renders them homeless and without medical care, translates to concrete violence.

Clearly, the government sees EU legislation as a bulwark against the full rollout of this violent system.Theresa May, has also stated that the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) “can bind the hands of parliament [and] … makes us less secure by preventing the deportation of dangerous foreign nationals”. By ‘dangerous foreign nationals’, one can only assume they mean elderly Black British citizens, or any non-EU migrant who comes into contact with the police.

The appointment of Sajid Javid as the new Home Secretary is an attempt to stave off the cries of racism against the (majority white) Conservative party. What needs to be remembered is that class is as great a division in British society as culture. Managing directors of investment banks do not get treated in the same way as NHS employees – no matter what their colour. The Home Office now offers a premium service where you can pay to skip the queue for a visa. This means that wealthier, powerful people of colour – although not exempt from being targeted by hostile environment policies – aren’t similarly vulnerable to the same policies which can endanger poorer migrants or citizens of colour.

EU Citizens

Now, the position of EU migrants is up in the air. European citizens are still in limbo over their status and rights to travel to or remain in the UK post-Brexit because the British Government has still not produced a White Paper proposal for a new European immigration policy. But we do have a clue as to their intentions. The 2017 Conservative manifesto gleefully states that leaving “the European Union means, for the first time in decades, that we will be able to control immigration from the European Union too.” This far-right rhetoric was also used by UKIP in the successful effort to persuade the general British public that immigration was the cause of all the country’s problems.

In December 2017 the UK Visas and Immigration department posted guidance on their website regarding an agreement with the EU on citizens’ rights. It states that the “agreement will protect your rights after the UK leaves the EU and enable you to continue to live your life as you do now. It also covers your family members.” Nonetheless, there are concerns about how even this moderate settlement – which says nothing about the fate of EU citizens not currently living here – will be delivered.

Bureaucracy as a weapon

Brandon Lewis MP, Minister for Immigration, explained that “the system for registering resident EU nationals would be based on existing structures and systems that are used by the Home Office in working with HMRC and the Department for Work and Pensions but that a new interface will be built.” But the internal system for processing migration claims and disputes is disconnected, partial and continually lets people slide through the cracks. The Windrush Generation fell foul of this system; even though they have had many decades of records available within both departments. That’s without factoring in the conscious destruction of their landing cards, vital documents in proving their citizenship. No wonder people with uncertain migration status are worried. The system is designed the system so it’s near impossible to prove your citizenship or right to remain in the UK for those with uncertain migration status.

Brandon Lewis stated that the Home Office will build a new, faster interface between the Government departments for registering resident EU nationals: “I want a system in which someone who completes their part of the process hears from the Home Office in a couple of weeks.

The key stumbling block here may be the interpretation of the Home Office’s definition of “their part of the process”. The Windrush Generation were asked to provide four pieces of evidence for every year they have lived in the UK. This is often incredibly difficult to obtain : Home Office guidance is different to the reality of using the system, and all areas of the Home Office system remain a bureaucratic nightmare according to Guy Verhofstadt, MEP.

The Windrush Scandal showed that targeting migrants and citizens of colour with cruel, inhumane treatment was a feature of the system, not a bug. If we are to learn the lessons of the Windrush Scandal, we should keep a close eye on how this government handles Brexit border negotiations. At the moment, the future looks bleak.

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