The immigration scandal of the Theresa May government


The immigration scandal of the Theresa May government

No one should be surprised by the apologies of British Prime Minister Theresa May and Home Secretary Amber Rudd for the shoddy treatment meted out to a large number of persons of Caribbean descent by the UK government.

Addressing a meeting with twelve Caribbean Heads of Government and Foreign Ministers, the Prime Minister added a clarification:

“Those who arrived from the Caribbean before 1973 and lived here permanently without significant periods of time away in the last 30 years have the right to remain in the UK, as do the vast majority of long-term residents who arrived later. I don’t want anybody to be in any doubt about their right to remain here in the United Kingdom.”

“We would also like to reassure you that there will be no removals or detention as part of any assistance to help these citizens get their proper documentation in place.”

As many as 50,000 persons of Caribbean descent who entered the UK legally several decades ago have been in danger of being deported because they have never complied with the formal procedures for acquiring resident and citizenship status.

Two factors have forced the Theresa May government to backtrack on its excessively stringent policy towards the children of Caribbean immigrants of the fifties and the sixties.

The more obvious of those factors is the political pressure heaped on the Conservative government by the opposition parties, the media and the civil society. The very public, political embarrassment was effectively too much to bear.

The other factor, the one less mentioned so far, is the heavy electoral price that the ruling party will have to pay if it does not change the relevant provisions of its existing immigration policy.

It is important to bear in mind that those stringent provisions were introduced by PM May herself during her previous tenure as Home Secretary from 2010 to 2016.

The ruling British Conservatives have already been significantly weakened by their reduced level of electoral popularity and their internal divisions.

The government is therefore keen on avoiding any backlash from its harsh treatment of the Caribbean and other Commonwealth immigrant communities in the UK, whenever the next election is called.

Similarly, PM May cannot take for granted the continued support of her own party          if its internal divisions are worsened by disagreement over this sensitive immigration issue. She is very much aware of the constant threat of a party leadership challenge or a parliamentary vote of no confidence.

When she was Home Secretary, her party had failed to take into account the fact that the so-called undocumented persons of Caribbean descent have a clear legal right to British citizenship, guaranteed by the UK’s Immigration Act of 1971.

The post-World War II wave of immigrants has been referred to as the “Windrush Generation”. It is a historical reminder of the 1948 arrival of 492 Caribbean passengers in Essex, on board the British ship the Empire Windrush.

The confusion over the immigration status of the children of the Windrush Generation is one more example of the hard-line, anti-immigrant policies that form part of the ideology of conservative and nationalist parties the world over.

That situation is compounded by the persistence of anti-Black racism far and wide. There is no point wasting time and deluding oneself in attempting to argue that a particular “developed” society (British, French, American, Canadian?) is more racist than the others.

Another major conclusion stands out in this scandalous situation.

For a million and one practical reasons, immigrants in any country have a responsibility to apply for permanent residence and then citizenship for themselves and their families as soon as they become eligible.