The proposed deportation of a former NHS nurse whose Windrush generation father served in the Royal Air Force is being cited by politicians and campaigners demanding an immediate end to the government’s “cruel and inhumane” hostile environment policy.
Sharon Vitalis has been threatened with ejection from the UK, which would separate her from her two British-born children – one of whom is just 12 years old, and whose father lives in the US – despite having a British birth certificate and living in the country for most of her life.
Home secretary Sajid Javid has announced he is pausing the discredited so-called “hostile environment” for people over 30, and has renamed it the “compliant” environment.
But Labour MPs and campaigners said this did not go far enough and called for the measures to be entirely abolished to prevent people such as Ms Vitalis having their lives ruined.
The 45-year-old, who worked for the NHS for more than 15 years, was born in Germany while her father was deployed to the country during service with the RAF. Her family moved back to the UK months after her birth.
Unlike her UK born siblings, who have never faced problems with their status, she has been told she is not British on the grounds that she was not born within the nation’s boundaries.
Ms Vitalis lived in the UK until the age of six, when she moved to the Caribbean with her mother and siblings to go to school there. She returned when she was in her early 20s and began working as a nurse.
She faced no problems for 17 years, during which she gave birth to a daughter in 1999 and a son in 2005. Her partner later moved to the US after the couple split.
In 2013, when Ms Vitalis went to collect her 15-year-old daughter from Gatwick Airport after a spell living with her father, she was stopped by immigration officials and taken to a detention centre.
“I took the day off work and went to collect my daughter from the airport. I was waiting for six hours and then I heard them calling my name on the tannoy to go to a gate. There were two officers,” said Ms Vitalis.
“They said they were arresting me and that I was liable for deportation, and that they were going to take me to a detention centre. They took me away.
“I couldn’t believe that my father served this country and I was in this predicament with all this embarrassment.”
Ms Vitalis was later reunited with her daughter, but she was issued deportation proceedings and therefore was dismissed from her NHS job.
She then entered into a “downward spiral of depression”, during which she started gambling and became involved in illegal fraudulent activity, taking money from patients to fund her gambling addiction.
“I was able to do some agency work while my case was ongoing. During that time I lost my dad, I lost my brother to suicide, I lost my grandmother. I think I went into a downward spiral because of this immigration thing,” she said.
She was charged with 14 counts of fraud totalling £13,052.88 and was sentenced to 28 months in prison in March last year.
“I know I did wrong. I did get into gambling. It was really getting out of hand. It got really, really bad. I didn’t object to my sentence or appeal it because I knew I had done something wrong. I served my time.”
After Ms Vitalis served her sentence, the Home Office attempted to deport her. She is currently waiting for an appeal decision in October and is unable to work or claim benefits in the meantime.
In deportation papers issued to Ms Vitalis in March 2017, the Home Office claimed that despite her children’s father living in the US, there was “no evidence that the care of the child will be anything other than safe and effective when you are deported from the UK”.
“It’s really frustrating because the information is there. I was British by birth and not by descent. If my dad hadn’t been working in Germany I would be like my other siblings,” Ms Vitalis said.
“They keep saying it’s because I was born in Germany, but why was I born in Germany? My father went through so much; he was the only black person on his battalion and my mum was the only black person living on the military base. My sister remembers the racism that went on in there.
“Having gone through all of that, if my parents knew I was having this problem now… I can’t work, I can’t claim any benefits, I can’t study – what am I supposed to do? I feel embarrassed.
“This has affected my children – they have no status. My son wants me to get him citizenship. I can’t pay £2,000 for something that I should not have to pay for. They’re suffering because of me.”
The case has emerged amid mounting criticism over the Home Office’s hostile environment following the Windrush scandal, which exposed that thousands of Commonwealth citizens had been wrongly targeted by immigration officials, with some detained and deported – costing then home secretary Amber Rudd her job.
Labour MP David Lammy told The Independent splitting children from their parents was “symptomatic of the cruel and inhumane outcomes of the Home Office’s hostile environment”, and said his office had dealt with many cases similar to that of Ms Vitalis.
“After so many years of detentions, deportations, homelessness, lost jobs, missed funerals, broken families and ruined lives, it is time to abolish the hostile environment, not simply pause it,” he said.
A Home Office spokesperson said the department was reviewing Ms Vitalis’s case, adding: “All citizenship applications are considered in line with nationality law.”
They said that children born abroad to parents who are not British do not have an automatic claim to British nationality, and that this can apply even if the parent is a serving member of the armed forces.