Amber Rudd is facing more pressure over the Windrush scandal today after it emerged the Home Office did set targets for the voluntary deportation of illegal immigrants.
The Home Secretary said she was ‘not aware’ of any targets when she made a bruising appearance before a powerful committee of MPs last night.
A senior official at the department added that the goals ‘did not exist’.
But an inspection of removals by the borders and immigration watchdog said targets were set in 2014/15 and for 2015/16.
The latest row erupted after Miss Rudd delivered another grovelling apology over the Windrush debacle.
She and Theresa May have come under intense pressure after it emerged residents who arrived from the Commonwealth from the late 1940s to the early 1970s had become caught up in a crackdown on illegal immigration.
People who have legally lived in the UK for decades have lost their homes, jobs or rights to NHS treatment, while some have been locked up in detention centres or threatened with deportation.
Miss Rudd yesterday admitted she had been too slow in recognising that there might be a ‘systemic’ issue over their treatment.
‘I bitterly, deeply regret that I didn’t see it as more than individual cases that had gone wrong … I didn’t see it as a systemic issue until very recently,’ she said.
During the bruising session, Miss Rudd revealed she did not know if any Windrush immigrants had been detained.
Amber Rudd appearing in front of the Home Affairs select committee yesterday to give evidence
An inspection of removals by the borders and immigration watchdog said targets for voluntary removals of illegal immigrants were set in 2014/15 and for 2015/16
Ms Rudd said she had become aware of the scandal ‘months earlier’ but had failed to grasp the gravity of the situation
Lucy Moreton, general secretary of the Immigration Service Union, had told the committee that officials in each English region had separate targets for the number of deportations.
She claimed the national target was about 8,000 a year – and said the net removal targets appeared on office posters.
But Miss Rudd said she was ‘not aware’ of any targets, saying she had not heard the evidence put forward by Miss Moreton.
Glynn Williams, Home Office director general for border, immigration and citizenship, said: ‘I don’t think they exist. There are no published removal targets.’
What documentation did Windrush immigrants have to provide?
Immigrants must fill out a form to apply for a biometric card which allows them to remain in the UK.
The application costs £229 per person – but the Home Office has now said it will waive the fee for Windrush immigrants after the controversy.
Applicants must fill in a 21-page document .
And if they do not have a passport they must provide documents proving they have continuously lived in the UK since 1973.
This can include exam certificates, employment records, a National Insurance number, birth and marriage certificates and bills and letters.
However, it has emerged a December 2015 report by the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration says that targets were set for voluntary departures, which took place when an individual or family notified authorities of their intention to leave the UK.
Voluntary departures included people who had approached the Home Office for financial assistance with their travel arrangements.
The assistance was available to anyone over 18 who was in the UK illegally, had been refused leave to remain in the UK or had applied for an extension of leave but wanted to withdraw the application and depart.
The report said: ‘For 2014/15 (10 full months) the Home Office set a target of 7,200 voluntary departures, an average of 120 per week, with the weekly target rising to 160 by the end of March 2015.
‘For 2015/16, the annual target was raised to 12,000. These targets were split between the 19 ICE teams across the UK.’
The Home Office also had a process for returning families who had no legal right to remain in the UK, which had a ‘single numerical target’.
The scale of the scandal emerged for the first time yesterday, as MPs were told a helpline set up last week has received more than 1,300 calls about potential Windrush cases. So far 600 have been called back, with 91 appointments made and 23 sets of identity documents handed out. But Miss Rudd admitted she does not know if any Windrush immigrants have been detained because of the scandal. She said that as far as she is ‘aware’ no one has been deported – but there are still 1,000 cases to trawl through to confirm this.
Asked when she first knew of the Windrush problems, Miss Rudd said: ‘I became aware over the past few months … that there was a problem of individuals.
‘This was covered by newspapers, and MPs bringing it forward anecdotally over the past three or four months, and I became aware that there was a potential issue.’
Emphasising those affected were here legally, Miss Rudd insisted there is ‘nothing wrong’ in trying to remove people here unlawfully, and acknowledged she had asked for more removals of such individuals.
She also rejected suggestions the Tories’ target to bring net migration below 100,000 had fuelled the saga.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has called for her to step aside as Home Secretary over the bruising scandal
MPs were told yesterday that a helpline set up to help those affected has been inundated with nearly 1,300 calls since last week
Earlier in the Commons, Mr Corbyn said Miss Rudd ‘inherited a failing policy and made it worse’, adding: ‘Is it not time she took responsibility and resigned?’
Last night it emerged the Home Office and No 10 were told about problems faced by the Windrush generation in 2016.
They were alerted after the Barbados government raised concerns with the Foreign Office.
At the time, David Cameron was prime minister, Mrs May home secretary and Philip Hammond foreign secretary.
The BBC reported that in April 2016, Mr Hammond was told by Caribbean ministers about immigrants facing deportation.
It is believed a report was passed to the Home Office. It is not clear at what level the concerns were raised.
40 years as a taxpayer… now gran has lost her job
A Windrush grandmother who has paid taxes for almost 40 years was sacked from her charity job because she could not prove her right to remain.
Jessica Eugene, who arrived in Britain in 1970, was fired as a receptionist at a migrant charity last month after three years.
Miss Eugene, 58, came over from the Caribbean island of Dominica aged just ten and has lived in Stratford, east London, ever since.
She considers herself British, has raised four children in the capital and says immigration officers had told her she had an ‘indefinite right to remain’ here.
But now – 48 years after her arrival and despite having worked a number of jobs including 17 years at a fair trade organisation – she has been told she cannot work and has lost her job at Newham Community Renewal Programme.
She said: ‘The whole time I had the immigration officers’ words in my head, that I had the indefinite right to stay … all my life I have worked and paid my taxes, even when I had children I made sure to work part-time.’
Miss Eugene, who has two grandchildren, has never had a passport because she has not left the country since 1970. However, she was so convinced of her right to stay that she believed she did not need one.
She even claims she tried to clarify her status with the Home Office a year ago – to no avail. Only after losing her job was she told that she must provide it with a passport in order to obtain a right to remain.
Miss Eugene said the Government’s recent announcement that all Windrush immigrants have the right to stay has offered some solace.
But she added: ‘They need to look at people as individuals. I’m a bit disappointed – from a moral point of view I just wanted an apology.’
The Home Office said it had no record of Miss Eugene sending it an application but emphasised that all Windrush immigrants should be in no doubt of their right to remain. Newham Community Renewal Programme was approached for comment.
Amnesty call sparks backlash for Boris
Downing Street slapped down Boris Johnson last night over his call for a migrant amnesty.
The Foreign Secretary clashed with Theresa May at Cabinet on Wednesday, suggesting the Government had not done enough to help the Windrush generation.
Mr Johnson floated the idea of a wider amnesty for all Commonwealth citizens who have been in the UK for more than a decade, provided they have not committed a criminal offence.
Home Secretary Amber Rudd has already announced an effective amnesty for all migrants who arrived from the Commonwealth before 1973. Those who arrived before 1988 will also get assistance with naturalisation.
Downing Street rejected the idea of a wider amnesty, saying it was ‘important that we don’t provide any incentive for people to enter the country illegally’.
In the Commons, Mrs May said: ‘People up and down this country want to make sure the Government is taking action against people who are here illegally.’
Families minister Nadhim Zahawi, who was born in Iraq, also suggested a wider amnesty would be wrong. He said: ‘The question assumes illegal immigrants should have the same status as people who are here legally. If you are here illegally and working illegally then you really shouldn’t be here.’