A scandal has emerged over the fate of ‘Windrush’ children, Commonwealth citizens who came to Britain from the Caribbean with their parents decades ago, but are now incorrectly being told they are here illegally. Some have lost their jobs and homes, while others have been deported, despite living lawfully in the UK for nearly all their lives.
This is plain wrong on many levels, not least because the families were invited – yes, invited – here by the British government in the 1950s and 60s to help with postwar rebuilding efforts. Windrush children have lived in Britain perfectly happily for decades: working hard, paying taxes, and raising families.
After their valuable contribution to society, it is a terrible injustice that their legal status is now being threatened by immigration officials, with many Windrush children also reporting problems getting medical treatment or basic benefits.
They have fallen foul of “hostile environment” immigration policies that make it harder for undocumented migrants to live and work in the UK by forcing employers, health care providers and others to obtain proof of residence.
Under the 1971 Immigration Act, Commonwealth citizens living in the UK were allowed to remain here. But the Home Office did not keep records of those who stayed, making it difficult for Windrush children to prove they are legally in Britian.
The government has belatedly woken up to the problem after a huge public outcry. Home Secretary Amber Rudd described the government’s treatment of the Windrush children as “appalling”, promising access to missing documents for those affected.
For the 3 million EU citizens living in the UK who are worrying about their fate post-Brexit, the harsh treatment of the Windrush children must sound alarm bells. While the government has proposed a solution for EU citizens, it depends on the final Brexit agreement. And the Windrush scandal shows that there is a world of difference between having a legal right to remain and actually being able to assert and depend on that right.
The UK is entitled to secure its borders. But when over-zealous enforcement means that long-term legal residents live in fear and face deportation from the only home they have ever known, something is very wrong.