Arriving in the UK as British nationals, the nationality of many of this group was then stripped away from them by legislation introduced in 1971, leaving them 50 years later having to prove to heartless officials the date of their entry to the UK and that they had lived here every single year since. Evidence of their work history, tax contributions, marriages and children born here was deemed not good enough.
Officials who set targets to reduce immigration by any means necessary saw these people as ‘low-lying fruit’. Cuts to legal aid and the closure of law centres meant many had no way of challenging Home Office decisions.
Gentleman correctly identifies these policies as racist, both in their design and in their implementation. She sees the irony of those who the UK transported to the West Indies as slaves from Africa now having their descendants transported back to the West Indies by this savage policy.
It was her tenacity in highlighting their stories in the Guardian, day after day, and constantly haranguing the Home Office press desk, together with the protests by Commonwealth diplomats, that eventually forced the government into retreat. Gentleman rightly rejects the government’s defence that these victims were not the intended target of their policies. She shows that both politicians and officials just didn’t give a damn about the effects of their policies until they became too embarrassing for them to ignore.
She rejects too the argument that the policies were only unfair when they targeted ‘good’migrants, and draws the links between the Tories’ targeting of migrants and their savage attacks on the disabled and recipients of Universal Credit.
But she could have gone further. The hostile environment was and continues to be a wholly racist set of policies, but that does not provide a complete explanation. They were designed to enmesh large numbers of public and private sector workers in the business of immigration control, from hospital and bank workers to employers and landlords.
The Tories set out to comprehensively scapegoat migrants and the poor, to sow divisions in society. I’m now looking forward to reading Maya Goodfellow’s new book, Hostile Environment: How Immigrants Became Scapegoats to (I hope) fill this gap.