JCWI (The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants) & Liberty have today [Monday 23rd April] called for the appointment of an Independent Commission to review the workings of the Home Office and the legal framework of the ‘hostile environment’.
Alongside the call, JCWI and Liberty have published a Dossier of Failure, detailing the need for an Independent Commission into the systematic failures which culminated in the Windrush scandal.
JCWI and Liberty have decided to release the dossier following a private JCWI meeting with No 10 last week in which it became clear that the Prime Minister had no intention of dealing adequately with the failures that led to the Windrush scandal. Instead, No 10 used the meeting to attempt to obtain a public statement from JCWI backing the Home Office. JCWI refused to make such a statement.
The Dossier of Failure establishes:
- The Home Office’s deliberate intent in creating the hostile environment which resulted in the Windrush scandal;
- That the Home Office knew before and after they implemented the hostile environment that it would result in problems for people legally resident and British citizens who didn't have the right documents;
- The Home Office’s failure to heed multiple warnings about the harmful impact of the hostile environment;
- The Home Office’s failure, despite recommendations, to monitor the impact of the hostile environment;
- That Home Office decision making is error-prone and often arbitrary;
- That the government has repeatedly tried to reduce scrutiny and corrective mechanisms in the Home Office, rather than dealing with problems.
In Parliament, an Early Day Motion (EDM) has been tabled by Caroline Lucas MP, co-leader of the Green Party, calling for an Independent Commission. It is co-sponsored by David Lammy MP, Layla Moran MP, Liz Saville Roberts MP, Stuart MacDonald MP and Emma Reynolds MP. It is expected to attract cross-party support.
Because of the Prime Minister’s role as Home Secretary between 2010 and 2016, JCWI believes only an independent commission, operating independently from the government, can properly investigate the failure of the Home Office and the decisions which led to the Windrush scandal.
Satbir Singh, Chief Executive of JCWI, said:
"It is not my job to rehabilitate the shattered reputation of the Home Office. It is an indictment of just how out of touch Theresa May is with the outrage her actions have caused that No. 10 could expect JCWI to put out a statement in support of their actions, while they still cling to her hostile environment.
"The treatment of the Windrush generation is no accident. It is precisely what happens when an anti-immigrant dogma takes over at the Home Office. Despite warnings, Theresa May chose to create a system that was designed to be as hostile as possible, whatever the cost. What on earth did she think the consequences would be?
"Families have been torn apart, left destitute and removed or thrown into detention without due process. It is no surprise that assurances from the Home Secretary now have such limited credibility. Only a full, independent inquiry into Home Office policy and practice will help restore that trust."
Martha Spurrier, Director of Liberty, said:
"The hostile environment has invaded every aspect of life in the UK. Trusted public servants have been turned into border guards, leaving people scared to send their children to school and too afraid to seek urgent medical help. People are being forced into destitution and threatened with having their children taken away if they ask for support. We now know people with leave to remain have had their records destroyed and been told to get out."
"A proper, independent inquiry will expose this scandal for what it is - a discriminatory and deliberately cruel policy promoted by a Government obsessed with deportation no matter the human cost. Their greatest mistake was believing that the public would stand for toxic policies which have destroyed lives and torn our communities apart. The hostile environment's days are numbered.”
Notes to editors:
For media enquiries including interview requests, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org / 020 7553 7469 / 07930 531128
JCWI and Crowd Justice have set up a fighting fund for all those affected by the hostile environment www.crowdjustice.com/case/windrush
Home Office: A Dossier of Failure
This dossier sets out the systematic and repeated failings in the Home Office over the years. It is impossible for such a document to be exhaustive. It is intended to provide an outline of the problem and demonstrate the necessity for an Independent Commission.
- The Home Office deliberately created a ‘hostile environment’ for people who can’t prove their status.
- Theresa May (as Home Secretary) in 2012: “The aim is to create here in Britain a really hostile environment for illegal migration.” Link
- A cross departmental Hostile Environment Working Group was set up in 2012, which as of March 2013 comprised, Ministers of State for Immigration, Care Services, Employment, Government Policy, Housing and Local Government, Schools, Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Minister Universities and Science, Justice, the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, and Parliamentary Under-Secretaries of State for Health & Transport.
- Sarah Teather MP raised concerns in 2013 about the working group and its stated aims. Link
- In October 2013 the government introduced an immigration bill, which became the Immigration Act 2014 and introduced the key measures of the hostile environment, such as the scheme requiring landlords to check immigration status. Link
- As soon as they were out of coalition the Government, before the true impact/efficacy of previous measures was understood, brought in a new Immigration Bill which became the Immigration Act 2016, which expanded the scope of the hostile environment substantially. Link
- The Home Office were told the 'hostile environment' would create problems for people legally resident and British citizens who didn't have the right documents both before and after they implemented these measures.
- Diane Abbott 22 October 2013 (In Parliamentary debates on the 2014 Immigration Act which first introduced the hostile environment): "Government Members should not think that they can continue down this anti-illegal immigrant path and not pay a price with the votes of the children and grandchildren of migrants. The danger with the Bill is not just that it will create the hostile environment for illegal immigrants that the Home Secretary was boasting of, but that it will tend to create a hostile environment for all of us of immigrant descent and our children."
- 80 civil society organisations led by JCWI briefed Parliament during the passage of the 2014 Immigration Act that "Forcing ordinary citizens who are not qualified in immigration law to check someone’s legality will result in mistakes and inadvertent discrimination. "and that "individuals often do not have any identity documentation or confirmed status but have a right to remain in the UK". Link
- In October 2014 the Legal Action Group published a report that clearly set out that long-standing residents in the UK were facing the same problems the Government is only now responding to. The Home Office at the time dismissed the concerns raised. Link
- In 2015, during the Second Reading of the Immigration Bill, Richard Fuller MP asked the Home Secretary "On my right hon. Friend’s particular answer to that question, the problem is that it is very difficult for someone to see that a person is an illegal immigrant. What they see is someone who is different. Does she not accept that, within this law, there is the potential for discrimination to be increased if this is pursued too aggressively?"
- Personal information from the National Pupil Database handed by the Department for Education to the Home Office on up to 1500 children per month for immigration enforcement purposes. [MOU in force since 2015] Link
- Confidential patient information collected by health workers handed to the Home Office by NHS Digital for immigration enforcement purposes; challenged in court by the Migrants' Rights Network, represented by Liberty [MOU in force since 2017] Link
- Sensitive data in the CHAIN homelessness database is aggregated by the GLA to create a map to assist the Home Office in detaining and deporting migrant rough sleepers [2016-17] Link
- Proposed immigration control exemption in Government’s Data Protection Bill 2017 will remove a person’s right to be notified when their data is shared with the Home Office; their right to make a subject access request, and Home Office obligations to process data lawfully, fairly and transparently [2017-18] Link
- The Government & Home Office repeatedly failed to heed warnings and its own evidence about the impact of the hostile environment
- Lord Kerslake, former head of the civil service, is reported to have described some members of the government comparing the hostile environment to Nazi Germany when these measures were proposed. Link
- Many organisations including JCWI, the Immigration Law Practitioner's Association (ILPA), the Coalition of Race Equality Organisations, the National Aids Trust, Doctors of the World, the Royal College of Nurses, the Residents Landlords Association, Crisis, UNISON and Liberty warned the government during debates on the 2014 Immigration Act.
- The government received many briefings outlining the awful problems caused by the 2014 Act when it sought to expand the hostile environment in parliamentary debates on the 2016 Immigration Act. This included briefings from JCWI, Liberty, Shelter.
- Home Office went ahead with rolling out controversial and discriminatory landlord immigration checks across England, despite evidence in both JCWI's and the Home Office's own evaluation of it causing discrimination. Link
- Many concerns were raised by MPs during the Second Reading of the Immigration Bill 2015. Link
- JCWI has been forced to take the Home Office to court (legal proceedings ongoing) to stop Home Office rolling out landlord immigration checks to Scotland, Wales & Northern Ireland despite new evidence that they are causing racial discrimination in the housing market.
- The Home Office was warned in 2017 about the impact of hostile environment bank account checks. Link
- Pregnant woman reporting rape to the police is arrested and interrogated about her immigration status and the Home Affairs Select Committee called for a review into the 'hostile environment' as a response  Link and Link
- Pupil nationality and country of birth data collected through the school census as a compromise to prevent harsher school immigration checks being proposed in the 2015 Immigration Bill; challenged in court by Against Borders for Children and Liberty [2016 - 2018] Link
- Public Health England warned about the risks to public health and to people's lives of up-front charging, but the Government went ahead with the policy that meant Albert Thompson is being denied cancer treatment. NHS charging is a core part of the Home Office's hostile environment. Link
- The Runnymede Trust warned the Home Office in 2013 about the risk of race discrimination arising from right to rent checks in the private rental market Link
- The Home Office has failed to monitor the impact of the hostile environment and failed to respond to recommendations that it does.
- In general the Home Office does not measure whether the hostile environment is working. See for example pg. 57 & 58 of JCWI's report on right to rent.
- Both the National Audit Office (link) and Ipsos Mori (link) were concerned by gaps in the monitoring of the NHS charging scheme (responsibility of Department of Health, but a key element in the Home Office hostile environment strategy). The Government cannot say whether the cost of implementing the scheme is more than it recovers, nor can it measure unintended consequences of the scheme.
- The Home Office only last month ignored its own Independent Inspectorate's scathing finding that the department is failing to show the landlord immigration check system is working. The Home Office refused to accept the Inspector's recommendation that it should engage with community groups concerned about discrimination, exploitation, modern slavery, homelessness & put in place robust monitoring mechanisms. Link
- The Home Office is error-prone and its decision making is often arbitrary.
- Gap year students making life and death decisions as Home Office caseworkers  Link
- Large variations in appeal success rates in different appeal centres between 2012-2016. Link
- Sir Henry Brooke CMG PC described in 2017 that one of the 'most depressing aspects' of the evidence received by Lord Bach's Commission on Access to justice was about "The poor quality of decision-making...within government departments (as in immigration cases)". Link
- Whistleblowers in 2018 describe decision making in the Home Office as a 'lottery' with 'cut and paste' decisions. Link
- Between 2012 & 2014 80% of refusals of entry clearance were successfully appealed/reviewed. Link Right to appeal then abolished (see below).
- The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman upheld more complaints against the Home Office than any other department Link
- This January Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration raised serious concerns about the failure within the Home Office to make correct decisions at the initial stages of cases. Link
- The Government has repeatedly tried to reduce scrutiny and corrective mechanisms in the Home Office, rather than dealing with problems.
- It removed appeal rights for most immigration cases. Link
- It introduced deport first appeal later to force people to leave the country before being allowed to challenge their decisions. The Supreme Court recently found this policy unfair and unlawful. Link
- As a result of deport first appeal later many people simply did not appeal, and people appealing out of the country were less likely to win than before. This suggests that people who would previously have won appeals, didn't. Link.
- It tried to raise Immigration Tribunal Fees by around 500% in 2016 which would have deterred many from challenging Home Office decision. It backed down following threat of legal action by JCWI and Liberty. [link]
- The Government has removed most legal aid for immigration, with appalling consequences fully explored by the Bach Commission Report. Link
About the Independent Commission
JCWI and Liberty are calling for an Independent Commission into the Home Office. It would investigate:
- Why and how Windrush nationals came to be affected by hostile environment policies, including why the Home Office ignored evidence from 2014 onwards that this was taking place under the hostile environment.
- Given that the policy extends beyond Windrush, to determine which other groups are affected by the hostile environment.
- The activities of the inter-departmental Working Group on the Hostile Environment in creating hostile environment policies/legislation
- Whether the “hostile environment” policies are based on evidence that they achieve the stated aim to reduce irregular migration.
- Whether the Home Office and other relevant departments have appropriately monitored the impact of these hostile environment policies and responded promptly to evidence that they are having unintended impacts. This include swhether the Government has undertaken sufficient monitoring to discharge its obligations under the Equality Act 2010.
- Determine what effect the “hostile environment” has had on all migrant and BME communities, and wider society, as well as the principles of confidentiality, acccess to justice, non-discrimination, and the rule of law.
- The decision making process within the Home Office which allowed documents to be destroyed and which allows incorrect decisions or troubling practices to go unchallenged and unaccounted for.
- Consider whether and how the Home Office can be reformed to improve efficiency and ensure respect for human rights and the rule of law are embedded throughout Home Office operations.
- Consider whether the Home Affairs Select Committee has sufficient powers to properly hold the Home Office to account, or whether a new body should be established to do this.