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Britain Scrambles to Shed Allegations of Immigration 'Racism'


FILE - Timothy Harris, St Kitts and Nevis Prime Minister, and other Caribbean leaders and representatives leave following a meeting with Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May at 10 Downing Street in London, Britain, April 17, 2018.

Trevor Ellis arrived in Britain in the 1950s as an 11-year-old with his Jamaican parents. He was schooled in Britain, gainfully employed his entire working life, paid taxes, married and raised children, who now have kids of their own.

But at the age of 71, he can't get a British passport, has been told he isn't British and has spent a spell in a deportation center.

Ellis and his now dead parents were were part of an influx between 1948 to 1971 of at least 50,000 migrants from a dozen Caribbean countries. The first 500, many children, arrived on board the ship Empire Windrush from Jamaica.

They were encouraged to emigrate by British authorities, who needed to plug post-World War II labor shortfalls.

They came from British colonies that hadn't achieved independence and were considered British subjects, but rounds of immigration legislation over the years have stripped them of that designation, although most didn't realize it.

Now at retirement-age amid tightening immigration rules and lack of official paperwork, many have been detained, made homeless, sacked from their jobs or denied social benefits and public health care.

Ellis says in 2014 he was sent to a detention center after being arrested for a minor traffic offense and was about to be deported when the interior ministry, known as the Home Office, intervened, ordering his release.

Simmering firestorm

FILE - Leaders and Representatives of Caribbean countries attend a meeting with Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May, Apr. 17, 2018
FILE - Leaders and Representatives of Caribbean countries attend a meeting with Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May, Apr. 17, 2018

For months a political scandal has been burning slowly about the treatment of Britain's "Windrush Generation" with mounting reports of elderly migrants facing deportation threats, despite a law passed in 1971 granting them the right to live and work in Britain indefinitely.

Michael Braithwaite, who arrived in Britain in 1961 at the age of nine, lost his job as a special needs teaching assistant at a school in north London, a post he'd held for 15 years.

"I was distraught.I fell to pieces inside.I didn't show it externally until I came home and I sat and I cried," he said.

Last week, Braithwaite's plight, and others like him, prompted fury in the British parliament and protests from Caribbean diplomats.

"I am dismayed that people who gave their all to Britain could be seemingly discarded so matter-of-factly," complained Guy Hewitt,Barbados high commissioner to Britain.

Opposition Labor lawmaker David Lammy, who is of Ghanaian decent, denounced in parliament the "inhumane and cruel" treatment of the "Windrush Generation."

"How many have been deported? How many have been detained as prisoners in their own country? ... How many have [been] denied health under the National Health Service? How many have been denied pensions? How many have lost their jobs?" he asked."This is a day of national shame."

Sunday, British opposition lawmakers focused their criticism on Prime Minister Theresa May, accusing her of running an "institutionally racist" government and one so determined to crack down on illegal immigration that it has created a "hostile environment" for all immigrants, regardless of legal status.

Before becoming prime minister, May oversaw the Home Office and was responsible for introducing strict rules requiring employers, the health services, and landlords to demand evidence of people's immigration status. Under May's watch the Home Office destroyed the landing cards of the Windrush migrants in 2010 and never issued any paperwork confirming their legal status.

May has "presided over racist legislation that has discriminated against a whole generation of people from the Commonwealth," said Dawn Butler, a senior opposition lawmaker.

Apology

FILE - Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May hosts a meeting with leaders and representatives of Caribbean countries, at 10 Downing Street in London, April 17, 2018.
FILE - Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May hosts a meeting with leaders and representatives of Caribbean countries, at 10 Downing Street in London, April 17, 2018.

May has apologized to Caribbean leaders and a hotline has been set up to assist affected migrants. She denied any of the "Windrush Generation" has been deported, but has agreed compensation should be given to those who've lost jobs or have been denied social benefits or health care.

"These people are British, they are part of us, they helped to build Britain and we are all the stronger for their contributions," she told Caribbean leaders last week.

Commentators question why it has taken so long for the plight of the Windrush generation to become a major political issue.

"It reveals something about Britain that these cases did not attract noisy universal condemnation sooner," argued Amelia Gentleman in the Guardian newspaper.

Justice Minister David Gauke has defended the tightening of immigration rules, arguing the core policy of trying to deter illegal migration was right, although he acknowledges there have been "implementation failures."

But rights campaigners warn the government will court even greater political risks following Britain's departure from the European Union, when it will have to sort out the immigration rights of nearly three million EU citizens living in the country, many of whom also will not have detailed documentation to prove their legal status.

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