Deportation Nation

deport first

At the end of this post is an abstract for an article I am currently finishing called ‘Deportation Nation’. I first developed this paper as a talk at BritCult: The German Association for the Study of British Culture, Dortmund, 2017. This paper develops my longstanding research on deportation, immigration detention and the scapegoating of migrants in public culture, but focuses on Theresa’s May tenure as Home Secretary (and subsequently Prime-Minister), and considers how the institution of ‘Hostile Environment’ policies characterise “Mayism”. I have been documenting May’s tenure as Home Secretary since 2010, and this paper and article presented an first opportunity to draw on some of the materials I have been collating — and particularly to begin to map out the ways in which newspaper journalists and television news companies collaborated with the Home Office in propaganda campaigns ostensibly designed to encourage ‘voluntary departures’ of non-citizens from Britain. As Stuart Hall puts it, “What is significant for the present moment is how this … demonstrates the crafting of collective consent to increased state repression, which appears to be spontaneous, through various cultural and ideological channels’.

In The Deportation Machine (2005), Liz Fekete examines earlier collaborations between the British Government and news organisations in the production of border enforcement propaganda. As Feteke details, it was under Tony Blair’s New Labour Government (1997-2007) that the British state began to deport unwanted migrants on any significant scale: in 1999 about 9,000 deportations took place, by 2010 this had risen to 70,000. In the same period, the Government first set itself numerical targets for the removal of “failed asylum seekers” and “immigration offenders” (Weber & Bowling 2008: 361). In 2001, the Home Office began to charter commercial planes to undertake mass deportations of failed asylum seekers, a practice which over the course of the following decade was extended to other categories of unwanted migrants, and is now commonplace (Miller 2018). The use of charter flights enabled the Home Office to remove “from the public gaze the spectacle of bound and struggling men and women” on commercial flights (Weber & Bowling 2008: 361). This was a strategic decision for, as Antje Ellermann has argued, when confronted with “the human face of deportation” the public “often become far more sensitive to the claims of those the state is attempting to expel” (2006: 296). However, the Home Office also recognised that these ‘shadow flights’ might act as a deterrent to future refugees. In 2004, they contracted an Associated Press Television News team to “video the forced deportation of approximately two dozen Afghans from Gatwick airport so that the film could subsequently be broadcast in Afghanistan as part of a programme warning” those considering coming to Britain that they could face a similar fate (Fekete 2005: 20).

In Go Home? The Politics of Immigration Controversies (2017) Hannah Jones, Yasmin Gunarathnam, Gargi Bhattacharyya, William Davies, Sucwant Dahaliwl, Kirsteen Forket, Emma Jackson and Roiyah Saltus further mapped the genealogy of this deportation propaganda machine. As they detail, in 2006 Tony Blair appointed a new ‘hard-line’ Home Secretary, John Reid (2006-2007), in response to a series of scandals around perceived failures to deport foreign criminals and control levels of ‘illegal migration’. Reid immediately launched a new communications strategy designed to demonstrate “a visibly tough approach to controlling borders and movement” (Jones et al. 2017: 13). This included “getting more images of immigration raids into the media” by “inviting journalists along to witness raids” in order to garner “media attention to the physical ‘toughness’ of the border” (ibid.). Whilst this deportation publicity ostensibly targeted “immigration offenders”, it now also had “an audience of the law-abiding and taxpaying public in mind” (ibid.). This shift in audience was made explicit in 2008, when the Home Office funded an independent television production company to develop a reality television programme called UK Border Force (Steadfast/Sky, 2008-2009). This programme was advertised as “a revealing new documentary series which takes you behind the scenes at Heathrow Terminal 3, Calais, Dover and out and about with diligent enforcement teams – all cracking down on illegal immigrants” (Burnett 2009). UK Border Force established a set of aesthetic and dramatic conventions for border enforcement which remained in evidence in ITN’s production of ‘immigration raid action sequences’ in Slough in 2014 – (which I explore in my article). Indeed, by the time of David Cameron’s televised appearance alongside an immigration ‘snatch squad’, the British public were primed in a televisual aesthetic of enforcement in which border officials appear as patriotic citizen-soldiers on the front-line of ‘the immigration invasion’. In 2010,  when Theresa May was appointed Home Secretary, the now established political use of deportation “to send a signal – to a nation-state’s citizens as well as its ‘outsiders’” significantly intensified (De Genova & Peutz 2010: 28).

This paper was also an opportunity to engage with Nicholas De Genova’s important theoretical work on ‘deportability”, and to consider the ways in which regimes of deportability — and the tentacle-like spread of internal borders within the state this entails — are increasingly entangled with forms of disposability. Policies which make increasing numbers of people ‘deportable’ through, for example, increasing governmental checks on legibility to work, study or live in Britain; and policies which make other unwanted people ‘disposable’, for example state-led practices of gentrification which expel social housing tenants from affluent cities, are underpinned by the same governmental logic. By emphasising the dual axis of deportability and disposability this paper begins to address the intertwined classed and racist character of authoritarian neoliberal state forms. I don’t develop this dual axis of deportability and disposability much further in this paper (but will do in my forthcoming book Stigma Machines).

It is the contention of my current research that we need to develop conceptual tools that enable intersectional analysis of the underlying logic of late neoliberal forms of state power. In particular, this requires an understanding of class and racism as structures of power which function in concert. For example, as Robin Kelley argues, in his account of the historical development of ‘racial capitalism’, it is precisely “the capacity of capital in the state to capture the white working class and tie its identity to race– that is to whiteness and masculinity” which enables neoliberal capitalism to reproduce itself—even at the moment of its own generated crisis. The media and political spectacle of deportation I examine in this paper is designed precisely to engender the forms of ‘capture’ and ‘division’ which Kelley describes.


dawn raid

‘Deportation Nation’ begins with the highly-publicised appearance of the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, and his (then) Home Secretary Theresa May, at the scene of an immigration raid in Slough in 2014. Since the 1990s, deportation has been “routinely capitalized on in governmental rhetoric” as a means of demonstrating effective control over borders and immigration (Tyler 2013: 71). As Nicholas De Genova and Nathalie Peutz argue, “deportation is not only a technique by which governments exert their sovereign power over bodies, space, and ‘the nation’; it has become a mechanism by which governments measure and signal their own effectiveness” (2010: 5). However, while the symbolism of deportation is increasingly invoked as a threat in political rhetoric, the actual practices of deportation, including dawn raids on homes and properties, arrests, detentions and the physical removal of people from British territory, are distressing and sometimes violent procedures. Indeed, these are kinds of activities which senior politicians would ordinarily seek to visually distance themselves from. Given this, the high-profile, if carefully curated, appearance of the British Prime Minister and his Home Secretary at an immigration raid is unusual. Indeed, stepping back from the scene at Slough, there is something extraordinary about the media spectacle of Britain’s most senior politicians at the scene of a deportation. Using events in Slough as a point of entry, this article examines a British Government initiative designed to create what May described in a speech to Parliament in 2012 as “a really hostile environment for illegal migrants in Britain”. It considers the subsequent implementation of this hostile environment and the intensification of deportation as a technology of government which it involved. It also examines how this politics of deportability came to characterise the 2015 Brexit campaign and the racist violence which followed in its wake. It argues that the “production of deportability” has been a defining feature of Theresa May’s tenure as Home Secretary (2010-2016) and Prime-Minister (2016-current) (De Genova & Peutz 2010: 17). It concludes by considering migrant deportability, and associated forms of citizen disposability, as central components of late neoliberal forms of state power. It is the argument of this article that thinking with and through deportation (and crucially resistance to this) can further our understanding of the relationship between the increasing precarity of migrant lives and the current intensification of ‘legalised expulsions’ “at home” (Walters, 2002).

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