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British Citizen One Day, Illegal Immigrant the Next

Beyond pledging to grant citizenship to all those caught up in the migration crackdown and to waive the fees and tests usually involved in that process, the Home Office has established a special team to expedite applications.

But the scandal has had a particularly distasteful resonance for black Britons, who say it is a symptom of lingering racism within government institutions.

Under the rules imposed when Mrs. May was home secretary, people were required to prove their identity and legal status in the country in order to get a job, rent an apartment, receive free medical care, open a bank account or enroll in school, among other things.

That created an immediate problem for Windrush-era migrants like Mr. McIntyre, who struggled to prove their status. They had been unaware that they had to apply for the necessary documentation; theoretically, they have indefinite permission to remain under a 1971 law.

Their plight surfaced now and then in the news, but came to prominence after a series of reports in The Guardian. The Home Office, the newspaper reported, had not kept a record of those granted permission to remain or issued any paperwork confirming it. Then, in 2010, it even destroyed the landing cards recording migrants’ arrivals from the Caribbean.

Mr. McIntyre questioned the motive behind the destruction of landing cards. “Why did they do that?” he asked. “To me, it seems like they want to get rid of us.”

It has seemed that way to many in a generation of workers who accepted an invitation to come to Britain. . They pitched in as construction and railway workers, nurses, bus and truck drivers, among other, mostly blue-collar pursuits, never suspecting that their status as British citizens or legal residents would be challenged.

Many black Britons say institutionalized racism of the kind endured by the Windrush migrants remains deeply ingrained and rarely publicized.

Photo

Credit Andrew Testa for The New York Times

Danesha Forte, 37, whose parents were Windrush migrants from Barbados, could not hide her exasperation.

“It’s atrocious,” Ms. Forte said, as she stood in Windrush Square in Brixton, the heart of London’s West Indian community. “Why are they targeting us? Are they trying to create a riot?” The neighborhood was the scene of major riots in 1981 and again in 1985, as young black men clashed with a police force they believed was persecuting their community.

“Black people are always targeted for something,” Ms. Forte said, adding that the police still disproportionately stopped and searched black people, particularly the young. “It’s one thing after the other. We just can’t catch a break.”

Britain, Ms. Baptiste said, remains enamored with romantic visions of its imperial past, a sentiment that in part drove its decision to leave the European Union. “We are an empire,” she said, “but for some people here, there are still too many dark faces.”

Most Britons are not taught about the prominent roles blacks played at royal courts in 15th-century Tudor Britain. Nor is it widely known that millions of ordinary Britons, even humble shopkeepers, owned shares in the slave trade. And across Britain, heritage plaques on Georgian townhouses euphemistically describe former slave traders and slave owners as West Indies merchants or planters.

A rose-tinted narrative of the British Empire was also peddled to its colonial subjects. Barbadians, for example, had been taught to revere the “mother country,” a mythical land populated by gentlemen, said Peter Fryer, author of “Staying Power: The History of Black People in Britain.”

Before moving to Britain for work, “They took their British citizenship seriously, and many regarded themselves not as strangers but as kinds of gentlemen,” he wrote. “Everything taught in school encouraged this belief. What they found here dismayed and shocked them.”

Mr. Lammy, the Labour lawmaker, who last year forced Oxford University to reveal data showing that in 2015 a third of its colleges had failed to admit a single black British high school graduate, expressed outrage at the way the government had treated a generation of workers who contributed a great deal to the country.

Source: NYT > World

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