Thousands of the legal Caribbean immigrants who arrived in the UK between 1948 and 1971 have had their British citizenship, and the rights which accompany it, cast into doubt. This is a consequence of deep-rooted intention, rather than an error of bureaucracy as the government would claim.
For many of the Windrush Generation, Britain is home, and has been for at least forty years. By introducing a ‘hostile environment’ for illegal immigrants, recent Conservative policies have extended to those who have spent their lives cultivating an identity here. Those who should have the same guarantees as other British citizens, of indefinite leave to remain and access to welfare and public services.
The 2014 Immigration Act received the overwhelming support of MPs, introducing a deport first, appeal later policy, but was subsequently ruled a breach of human rights by the Supreme Court. The current scandal, while deeply shocking, is not a deviation from this government’s record, nor from long-standing British attitudes towards immigration.[pullquote]
This is a consequence of deep-rooted intention, rather than an error of bureaucracy as the government would claim[/pullquote]
Between 1948 and 1971, Commonwealth citizens were encouraged to seek work in post-war Britain. This free movement came to an end with the 1971 Immigration Act, and it was no coincidence that only five years later, a Race Relations Act was introduced to prevent discrimination on the grounds of race, following race riots and increased far-right activities.
The backlash against immigration continued through the twentieth century, and while the nature and extent of migration have changed, public and political discourse surrounding it has remained unwaveringly prevalent.
In a meeting with Caribbean leaders, May declared that her “main priority is to dispel the myth that my government is clamping down on commonwealth citizens who have built a life here. This is just not true.” From the perspective of Michael Braithwaite, who lost his job of 15 years having been ruled an illegal immigrant, or Gretel Gocan, unable to return to her British home of 50 years after visiting Jamaica in 2010, it would seem that it is.
While migration has changed, public and political discourse surrounding it has not
British citizenship is no longer treated as a right for those who have spent their lives here and made lasting contributions. Instead, it bears similarities to the American healthcare system, which the British so resolutely condemn. Any loophole is utilised in order to prevent the provision of welfare to those no longer deemed ‘appropriate.’
In 1948, the British mainstream press reported the arrival of the HMT Empire Windrush with jubilant enthusiasm, broadcasting a Trinidadian calypso singer’s rendition of “London is the place for me.” Apparently, London disagrees.