The Home Office showed “ignorance and thoughtlessness” on the issue of race, a review of the Windrush scandal says.
The long-awaited review comes after some of those who came to the UK from Commonwealth countries were wrongly told they were in Britain illegally.
There was a “profound institutional failure” which turned thousands of people’s lives upside down, it said.
Warnings about the “hostile environment” policy were “not heeded”, the review concludes.
The review, commissioned after people with a right to live in the UK were wrongfully detained or deported to the Caribbean, finds that those affected were let down by “systemic operational failings”.
Its publication has prompted calls for an independent review specifically into the extent of institutional racism in the Home Office and whether its immigration policies are in line with equality law.
The report’s author, Wendy Williams, an inspector of constabulary, said at its launch: “The Windrush generations has been poorly served by this country, a country to which they contributed so much and in which they had every right to make their lives. The many stories of injustice and hardships are heartbreaking, with jobs lost, lives uprooted and untold damage done to so many individuals and families.
Wendy Williams, called on the government to provide an “unqualified apology” to those affected and the wider black African-Caribbean community.
Speaking in the House of Commons Home Secretary Priti Patel said there was “nothing I can say to undo the pain” but added “on behalf of this and successive governments I am truly sorry for the actions that span decades”.
Ms Patel said people from the Windrush generation were subject to “insensitive treatment by the very country they called home”.
I am sorry that people’s trust has been betrayed
She added that those who were eligible would receive compensation.
Labour MP David Lammy said the review was a “brutal indictment” of the Home Office which showed it was “wholly unfit” for the society it is supposed to serve.
“The review shows the Windrush scandal was not an innocent mistake, but a systemic pattern of appalling behaviour rooted in a toxic internal culture and a failure of the department to understand Britain’s colonial history,” he said.
“When the problem is institutional, the only solution is to tear out the ruined foundations and rebuild the institution brick by brick. This is what the Home Office needs.”
Mr Lammy called on the Home Office to end the hostile environment immediately, create a new purpose and culture at the department based on the rule of law, openness and diversity, and fundamentally rebuild the Home Office.
He added that it was unfortunate that the report had been published in the midst of the coronavius emergency, saying it was “hard to imagine a worse time” for it to be published.
“For the sake of all those black British citizens who were deported, detained, made homeless, jobless, denied healthcare housing and welfare by their own government, we cannot allow this news to be buried.”
Ms Williams says both ministers and officials in the Home Office must learn lessons from the scandal, saying ministers set the policy and the direction of travel and did not sufficiently question unintended consequences, while officials could and should have done more to examine, consider and explain the impacts of decisions.
Outlining specific changes and improvements, she says the department must acknowledge the wrong which has been done, open itself up to greater external scrutiny; and it must change its culture to recognise that migration and wider Home Office policy is about people and, whatever its objective, should be rooted in humanity.
The Inspector of Constabulary also calls for a full review and evaluation of the hostile environment policy and the creation of a “migrants commissioner responsible for speaking up for migrants and those affected by the system”.