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Caribbean Immigrants To U.K. Threatened With Deportation


There is a scandal in the United Kingdom over the way certain immigrants are treated. The immigrants are from the Caribbean. They settled in the U.K. decades ago, but were threatened with deportation in recent years. NPR's Daniella Cheslow reports the public outcry comes as Britain redesigns its immigration policy as part of its exit from the European Union.


DANIELLA CHESLOW, BYLINE: Behind a church in a suburb of London, a dozen people tap out a song on steel drums. It's a musical instrument created out of oil drums in Trinidad and Tobago, once a British colony.

BLONDELLE PRESCOD: Don't you see me dancing?


PRESCOD: I love all kinds of music.

CHESLOW: Blondelle Prescod plays in the front row. She's 74 and nearly blind. She left Barbados for the U.K. when she was 18. Prescod is part of what's called the Windrush generation. It's named for the Empire Windrush, one of the first ships that took immigrants from the Caribbean to fill jobs in post-war Britain. Until 1973, the law said people from former British colonies could stay in the U.K. indefinitely. Prescod says she was careful to keep her papers current.

PRESCOD: I had an idea that a passport is the kind of thing that should always be up to date, and I made it a point of trying to do that.

CHESLOW: Others were not so careful. Now, many Caribbean immigrants who have lived in the U.K. for decades have been told they don't have proof they're citizens. Some have lost access to public housing or healthcare. Others have been deported or refused re-entry to Britain.

PRESCOD: It's simply unfair. Somebody who's been here for 40 or more years - well, I've been here for 57 this year. And had I not done what I did, I would've thought that they treated me unfairly, too.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: Windrush generation has the right.

CHESLOW: On Tuesday, about a dozen people shouted and held banners outside the Home Office, which handles immigration. In 2012, the Home Office tightened immigration controls. The policy was driven by British Prime Minister Theresa May, who was Home secretary at the time. She said the aim was to create what she called a hostile environment for illegal arrivals. Activist Antonia Bright says the result is that black and Asian people who are in the U.K. legally are being forced to prove their right to be in the country.

ANTONIA BRIGHT: That is a poison in the society. So whether you've got your status or not, it invites racial profiling, targeting, harassment as a matter of routine.

CHESLOW: Earlier this week, Amber Rudd resigned from the post of Home secretary amid questions over how her office had handled the scandal. Her replacement is Sajid Javid, the son of a bus driver from Pakistan. He spoke to parliament Monday.


SAJID JAVID: When I heard that people, who are longstanding pillars of their community, were being impacted for simply not having the right documents to prove their legal status in the U.K., I thought that it could be my mum, my brother, my uncle or even me.

CHESLOW: Javid promised to do right by the Windrush generation. This scandal has also affected Britain's exit from the European Union. There are 3 million EU nationals living in the U.K., and concern about immigration is said to have been a major reason why the public voted for Brexit. George Parker, political editor of the Financial Times, says those EU nationals will have to be registered as legal residents of Britain.

GEORGE PARKER: And of course there are people in the European Union. And you wonder whether they can trust the Home Office to process these claims accurately, or whether those people are going to end up in the same sort of situation as the Windrush people.

CHESLOW: Parker says both liberals and conservatives in Britain have been outraged by treatment meted out to the Windrush generation. And he says maybe that shows the U.K. is a little more tolerant of immigrants than it had seemed at the time of the Brexit vote. Daniella Cheslow, NPR News, London.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.