We’re grateful for your Windrush work – but the fight for justice goes on | Letters

Guy Hewitt, high commissioner for Barbados, thanks Amelia Gentleman for exposing the Windrush scandal, Gideon Ben-Tovim says too many bodies colluded in creating a hostile environment, immigration solicitor Sheona York says it was clear from 2013 that people in the UK lawfully would be affected, and Diane Astin says the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (Laspo) has much to answer for

“Never was so much owed by so many to so few.” This wartime quote by Winston Churchill, who was also British prime minister during the first waves of West Indian migrants to Britain, is to me the most apt way of expressing the gratitude of the Caricom high commissioners and the West Indian diaspora for the incredible work by Amelia Gentleman on the issues confronting elderly, Caribbean-born, long-term, UK residents.

In less than a week, a story that was for too long begging for attention became front-page news and in the process won the hearts of a nation and engaged the mind of a government. I want to recognise this seminal work by Amelia in almost singlehandedly leading the charge.

The Caribbean owes her an immeasurable debt of gratitude, and I commend her for an immense dedication to her craft and outstanding service to the people of the Caribbean.

While we are not there yet, I am now optimistic that soon, in large part because of Amelia’s work, those elderly West Indians who lived in fear will be able to embrace their loved ones and join hands and sing, in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last, Free at last, Thank God almighty, We are free at last.”
Guy Hewitt
High commissioner for Barbados to the United Kingdom

• Congratulations to the Guardian – and to David Lammy MP – for the brilliant exposure of the gut-wrenching Windrush scandal. But among the rightful condemnation of the “hostile environment” brought in by Theresa May and reinforced by Amber Rudd, we must not overlook the responsibility of those who have implemented the policy.

The destruction of the lives of a generation of hard-working British citizens would not have happened without the active collusion of a range of bodies who should be profoundly ashamed of their actions as a mindless immigration police force. Why did they target a selective group of longstanding employees, NHS patients, tenants, service users?

Proactively complying with the law in such an obviously discriminatory manner has resulted in these heartless actions that are central to one of the most graphic examples of institutionalised racism since the Stephen Lawrence case. As history has taught us, “simply obeying orders” is a profoundly slippery slope. The 2014 Immigration Act enshrining the “hostile environment” must certainly be repealed. Until then, leaders and managers of mainstream institutions must use common sense, decency and judgment, and refuse to be collaborators in this system of appalling racial and social injustice.
Gideon Ben-Tovim
Senior fellow in sociology, University of Liverpool

• Can we please stop demanding apologies, or resignations, or, worse still, independent inquiries, into the harm done by the “hostile environment” (Government knew of risk to Windrush generation, 23 April). What is needed is a prompt decision by the government to suspend the operation of the “hostile environment” measures introduced in the Immigration Acts 2014 and 2016, a reduction in immigration application fees, and a decision by the Home Office to prioritise careful decision-making in accordance with the law, and cut delays for applicants.

I write as an immigration solicitor at Kent Law Clinic. Following the 2012 loss of legal aid, I have been the only solicitor in Kent providing a free service for non-asylum immigration clients. The clinic acts for many non-“Windrush” clients also facing loss of accommodation, work, benefits and family life because of the “hostile environment”. To me and many other immigration practitioners, it was clear as soon as Theresa May made her announcement in 2013 that, although directed against “illegal immigrants”, people here lawfully would be affected.

It has been clear since the 2006 and 2013 declarations by two different home secretaries (John Reid and Theresa May) that the Home Office immigration department was “not fit for purpose” and that concentrating on rooting out “illegal migrants” has for many years been a losing as well as a spiteful strategy. It should be clear now that the “hostile environment” is itself creating illegality among ordinary individuals and families, and should be abandoned forthwith.
Sheona York
Kent Law Clinic, University of Kent

• Today I read yet another account of the human cost of the hostile environment policy on the Windrush generation (Left destitute: ‘I had to beg for money to pay for electricity’, 23 April). In 2014 Trevor Johnson was told wrongly by the Home Office that he was in the UK illegally, and not allowed to work or claim benefits.

The predictable consequences were that he was threatened with deportation, his benefits were stopped and he and his family faced destitution and eviction. Just the year before, in April 2013, the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (Laspo) came into force. Laspo removed from the scope of legal aid each of those areas of law: immigration, welfare benefits, debt and early housing advice.

Laspo did not just mean that private practice solicitors could not advise on certain legal problems but also slashed the capacity of Law Centres, Citizens Advice Bureaux and Shelter housing aid centres to provide specialist help to people facing the harsh, and unlawful, decisions of public bodies.

The government is currently undertaking a post-implementation review of Laspo. Let us hope that, like Amelia Gentleman’s superb journalism, the focus of the review is the effect the Laspo has had on the lives of people like Trevor Johnson.
Diane Astin

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