UK Home Secretary resigns in wake of 'Windrush' scandal

Update: The UK’s Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, resigned on Monday after The Guardian revealed she sent letters discussing the Home Office’s targets to deport illegal immigrants, despite previously telling a committee they do not exist. Her resignation followed criticism in the wake of the ‘Windrush’ scandal, in which the Home Office threatened the children of Commonwealth immigrants who arrived before 1973 with possible deportation if they could not prove their right to remain in the UK. Rudd has now been replaced by Sajid Javid, former Communities Secretary.

The British government has announced that the Home Office, its department of domestic affairs, will fast-track citizenship for those affected by what has become known as the Windrush scandal

The Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, announced that anyone who has suffered from the impact of the apparent policy to destroy evidence of Jamaican immigrants’ residence will be able to apply for citizenship without paying fees. They will also be treated leniently if unable to provide documentation as proof (The Independent).

Rudd has also confirmed that an independently-run compensation scheme will be set up for those affected (The Guardian).

Over the last week, the Prime Minister Theresa May and Rudd have faced increased pressure after various revelations demonstrated the Home Office’s ill treatment of the Windrush generation’s descendants who have lived in the UK for decades. May has been criticised by politicians who blame the situation on her government’s so-called “hostile environment” immigration policy.

A letter dated May 2016 was made public on April 23, referring to a person who arrived in Britain as a child decades ago being threatened with deportation. The Guardian newspaper suggested that the letter proved that the government has been aware of the issue for years.

The letter related to Trevor Johnson, who arrived in 1971 from Jamaica with his brother Desmond.The letter was sent by James Brokenshire, the immigration minister between 2014 and 2016, to a Labour MP, Kate Hoey. When asked about the letter during ITV’s Peston on Sunday  programme, Brokenshire said he did not recognise it.

Trevor Johnson has been threatened with deportation, and his brother has not been allowed to return to the UK after going to Jamaica for his father’s funeral in 2001.

The Home Office was originally not thought to have kept records of landing cards of people granted permanent status in the UK. However, it emerged that while the decision to dispose of some landing cards was made in 2009 by the Labour government, they were in fact destroyed in 2010 by the Home Office when Theresa May was home secretary.

On Sunday April 22 on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Emily Thornberry, shadow foreign secretary, said: “How much worse can it get? People have died, they have lost their jobs, and people working in the National Health Service all their lives are suddenly not even entitled to go to the National Health Service.”

She added: “It couldn’t be worse and yet the home secretary thinks ‘I can apologise and it will be alright’. Well, it won’t be.”

These landing cards filled out by the Commonwealth immigrants have previously been used as evidence to support the right of descendants of other immigrants into the UK.

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The scandal has broken as Britain has made efforts to develop new links with Commonwealth countries as it leaves the European Union. May apologized to the leaders and ministers of 12 Caribbean countries during a meeting in Downing Street on Tuesday, reassuring descendants of the “Windrush’ generation who came in the 1950s that they will not face deportation.

One of the first ships to bring West Indian immigrants to London in 1948 was called “Empire Windrush,” so this group of people to come to Britain has become known as the “Windrush Generation.”

The former head of the UK’s Civil Service, Lord Kerslake, said on BBC television that some of his colleagues believed May’s Home Office immigration operations were “almost reminiscent of Nazi Germany.” He called for an investigation into the fate of the documents.

Having grown up and resided in the UK their entire lives, while contributing taxes, some of these citizens have never felt the need to formalize their citizenship. The 1971 Immigration Act gave those already living in the country the option to accept or refuse “leave to remain” in the United Kingdom; it also revoked freedom of movement between Commonwealth nations. An estimated half a million people were born in a Commonwealth country and migrated to the UK before 1971, says the Migration Observatory at Oxford University. Although 57,000 Commonwealth born people self-identifying non-UK nationals could be affected by this, the exact number remains unknown.

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The Guardian has interviewed Windrush citizens who were wrongfully classified as illegal immigrants because of the tighter immigration rules and how this resulted in them being sent to immigration removal centers, losing their right to work or losing their access medical care, for example. Unless they are able to produce documents confirming their right to live in the UK, the Home Office has threatened them with deportation.

Albert Thompson was denied treatment for his cancer because he was unable to prove he legally living in the UK. May publicly assured Thompson that he would receive the care he needed. However, the Royal Marsden Hospital appear to have not made his case urgent despite originally being scheduled to start his 12-week radiotherapy last November (The Guardian).

On BBC’s Today show on Friday, a former senior immigration official, David Wood, said in reaction to Thompson’s situation: “Yes it’s a terrible consequence of a policy that has not been thought through for unforeseen consequences like this.”

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On April 16, the UK Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, apologized for the “appalling” treatment of Windrush migrants by her department. A Home Office taskforce of 20 is trying to find out whether anyone deported so far had arrived from the Caribbean as children. It is also directly dealing with Windrush applicants to ensure they can find evidence necessary to support their citizenship (The Guardian).

David Lammy, a Labour MP, directly addressed the Home Secretary in the House of Commons and said: “It is her department that has deported them. She should know the number.” He later added: “Today is a day of national shame.”

David Lammy on Twitter

My parents came here as citizens, now the #windrush generation are suffering inhumane treatment at the hands of the Home Office. If you lay down with dogs, you get fleas! This is a day of national shame: the PM and Home Sec must apologise!

When Britain’s Immigration Minister, Caroline Nokes, was asked during a TV interview whether any of these people may have accidentally been deported, her response was: “Potentially they have been, and I’m very conscious that it’s very much in error and that’s an error I want to put right.” A day later, On BBC Radio 4’s  Today program, the UK’s Cabinet Office Minister, David Lidington, said: “The position is that we have no information. We do not know of any cases where somebody who has been deported is in this category.”

Adam Wagner, a human rights lawyer at Doughty Street Chambers and the founder of the UK Human Rights blog, tweeted to almost 40,000 followers in defense of the Prime Minister and the Home Office. He said: “I don’t really blame Theresa May or Amber Rudd for what’s happened – I see them as products of a political choice many many years ago to cut net immigration to ridiculously low numbers – 100,000 or so.”

In another tweet, Wagner added: “That choice, which we need to remember was a popular one, created the modern immigration system. in a sense the voters, not Theresa May, are the culprit here.”

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