LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Theresa May on Monday appointed the first ethnic-minority politician to the key post of home secretary, as the government struggled to contain a scandal over the mistreatment of long-term residents from the Caribbean.
Sajid Javid replaces Amber Rudd, who resigned late Sunday, saying she had “inadvertently” misled lawmakers about whether the government had deportation targets.
The Windrush immigration scandal has dominated headlines in Britain for days and sparked intense criticism of the Conservative government’s tough policies.
The furor began when the Guardian newspaper reported that some people who came to the U.K. from the Caribbean in the decades after World War II had recently been refused medical care in Britain or threatened with deportation because they could not produce paperwork proving their right to reside in the country.
Immigration is a divisive issue in Britain, with cutting the inflow of migrants a major factor for many voters who in 2016 backed leaving the European Union. The government has an oft-stated but long-unmet goal of reducing net immigration below 100,000 people a year, less than half the current level. Opponents say the government should drop that target.
May is facing opposition calls to take responsibility for the tough immigration policies that started when she was home secretary in 2012.
Those affected belong to the “Windrush generation,” named for the ship Empire Windrush, which in 1948 brought hundreds of Caribbean immigrants to Britain, which was seeking nurses, railway workers and others to help it rebuild after the devastation of World War II.
They and subsequent Caribbean migrants came from British colonies or ex-colonies and had an automatic right to settle in the U.K. But some have been ensnared by tough new laws intended to make Britain a “hostile environment” for illegal immigrants.
Some of these legal migrants have been denied housing, jobs or medical treatment because of requirements that employers and doctors check people’s immigration status. Others have been told by the government that they are in Britain illegally and must leave.
Javid, whose parents came from Pakistan, has expressed anger at the treatment of the Windrush generation, telling the Sunday Telegraph: “That could be me.”
In recent weeks Rudd and May have apologized repeatedly to the Windrush generation, saying that all pre-1973 Commonwealth immigrants who don’t already have British citizenship will get it and those affected will get compensation.
But Rudd’s position worsened after she told lawmakers last week that the government did not have targets for deporting people — only for a 2017 memo to emerge that mentioned specific targets for “enforced removals.”
Rudd said she didn’t see the memo, but The Guardian later published a leaked letter she wrote to the prime minister discussing an aim of increasing removals by 10 percent.
In a resignation letter to the prime minister, Rudd said she had “inadvertently” misled lawmakers. May said she accepted that Rudd had spoken “in good faith” and was sorry to see her resign.
The Windrush scandal is also causing anxiety for the 3 million European Union citizens living in Britain who are concerned about their immigration status after the country leaves the EU next March. The British government says they will be allowed to stay.
May’s office said Javid’s former job, Britain’s communities secretary, is going to James Brokenshire, the former secretary of state for Northern Ireland.