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Windrush: trail points to May

The scandal shows the need for immigration reform. Matthew Partridge reports.

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Welcome, for now

"History will judge Theresa May harshly," says The Observer. Recent revelations about the Home Office's "hostile environment" policy to reduce migration paint "a shocking picture of a Kafkaesque state" that has denied settlers from the Commonwealth their "rightful entitlement to work, to housing and to healthcare".

The root of the Windrush generation Home Office scandal is the requirement that they provide an "absurd level" of proof of their legal status, without which they can no longer work, rent, open a bank account or receive NHS care. They may even be "detained and threatened with deportation".

Unfit to govern

Officially, no one appears to be to blame for this scandal, but there is a "trail of neon arrows" pointing towards Theresa May, her Home Office and three Immigration Acts, says Nesrine Malik in the New Statesman. There is "no permutation of explanations" in which May should "survive this. If it is the result of an immigration policy that does not respect the legal rights of citizens and migrants to remain in the country", then "she is unfit to govern".

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If it stems from an immigration policy "so wildly unsupervised that people can be deported without the PM or her Home Office minister knowing, then she is unfit to govern". The Tories have "inflicted a deep wound not only on the Windrush victims", but also to "the sense of trust in the government's ability to administer the business of nationality and settlement".

What is the government supposed to do, asks The Daily Telegraph. If the state cannot prevent people from entering Britain "under false pretences", it must make it "as difficult as possible to remain". Critics are citing tragic individual cases as evidence that the government can't handle immigration and "shouldn't even try", but that is a "bad idea" that will "harm the very constituencies the left claims to represent".

Time for reform

The solution is reform, says Janan Ganesh in the Financial Times. The hounding of Windrush children is the result of government policy aimed at reducing annual net migration to tens of thousands "working as intended". That target needs to be replaced. "Even on the Tory right, there is interest in reform that dwells on the type, not the quantity, of newcomers, and does not count an international student as an unskilled worker's extended family.

So why does Theresa May resist?" Her past tub-thumping on immigration stems not from genuine nativism, but from a desire "to appease a body of opinion she half-understands". Nevertheless, a sensible immigration policy is needed.

It is, and the "silver lining" of this debacle is that it will force the Tories to adopt a more liberal one, says Andrew Grice in The Independent. This scandal is damaging their image and it is "dawning" on them that, as their elderly supporters die, they need to appeal to a "younger generation more relaxed about immigration". If they do not act, "they will pay a very heavy price".

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