Racialization of Immigration

There is considerable scope for the mobility literature to engage more effectively with racism, a concept that connects strongly with objectification and distancing (see Ben Bowling’s concluding Chapter 16 in this volume; also Bosworth, Bowling, and Lee 2007; Bosworth and Kellezi 2013). Debates around the criminality and imprisonment of black people are, to an extent and with some important differences, replicated in the discussion of foreign nationals and crime (Bowling and Philips 2002; Bosworth, Bowling, and Lee 2007; Cooper 2009). Criminological debates since the 1970s and 1980s have explored whether the high rates of recorded crime and imprisonment amongst black people are a result of ‘black criminality’ or unfair treatment by the criminal justice system. Much of the immigration debate in the United Kingdom has similarly mixed up refugee and asylum issues with criminality and, more perniciously, with terrorism. The United States provides what is perhaps the most extreme example of enthusiasm for racialized detention, which has now ‘turned with renewed vigour toward immigrants’ (Garcia Hernandez 2012: 364). Meanwhile, taking a cross-European perspective, Wacquant (1999: 219) argues that the media and politicians have been ‘eager to surf the xenophobic wave that has been sweeping across Europe since the neoliberal turn of the 1980s’, and there seems to have been some displacement of racist attitudes to target these groups.

This point is developed by Matthew Gibney in Chapter 12 ofthis volume, where he discusses how membership status in the United Kingdom has been gradually manipulated in relation to non-white Commonwealth citizens, who have gone from being virtually undeportable to the most likely to be removed from the United Kingdom. Gibney makes a convincing case that immigration legislation is racially driven, a point that was reinforced by the influential ‘Parekh Report’ into the future of multi-ethnic Britain (2000). Parekh argued that the effect of much immigration legislation was to reinforce in the national psyche the superiority of white people over others, because it applied primarily to non-whites. While the debate about racism based on lines of colour has been usefully complicated in the UK context by Eastern European migration in particular (Smith 2009), the felt distinction between white and non-white foreign nationals is apparent in detainee accounts:

White people are all treated better; if you are white you are recognised as Europeans—so share the culture of officers. (HMIP 2006: 11)

I have been called a dirty foreigner by inmates, and I have observed racist comments to black prisoners. You get treated better as a white foreign national than a black person. (HMIP 2006: 10)

The link between visible difference and immigration enforcement is also illustrated by the persistence of both covert and, in some cases, explicit racial profiling in the policing of immigration law. In Germany, for example, suspected illegal immigrants are targeted on the basis of their racial appearance (Vogel et al 2009; Sitkin 2013), something that may happen in other countries but is not a legitimate policy.

Vogel et al (2009) argue that, as a result, migrants, especially those who are undocumented, are likely to avoid all contact with the German police, even if they are victims or witnesses.

 
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