Faculty of law blogs / UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD

Enduring Uncertainty: Deportation, Punishment and Everyday Life


Time to read

2 Minutes

The UK Borders Act 2007 allows for foreign-nationals sentenced to 12 months or more of imprisonment to be automatically served with a deportation order because it’s deemed conducive to the public good.

In the context of the increasing and, I dare say, normalised use of deportation of foreign-nationals upon conviction, pertinent questions come to the surface. What effect do British policies of deportation have on those facing deportation and their families? What strategies are devised to cope with and react to deportation? In what ways does deportability influence one’s sense of justice, security, and self, and how does that translate into everyday life? These are the questions that I sought to address in Enduring Uncertainty: Deportation, Punishment and Everyday Life (Berghahn, 2016).

This is a book about the lived experience of policy. How people respond to a given set of policies cannot be fully anticipated. Studying the ways people interpret, understand, and experience policies allows for a better understanding of how they work in practice. Taking policies of deportation at its centre, Enduring Uncertainty addresses the above questions through an examination of the experiences of deportation and deportability of foreign-nationals convicted for a criminal offence in England and Wales. I conducted a meticulous but also unconventional ethnography, carried out in a range of sites including immigration courts and migrants support groups, as well as varying locations that form part of the everyday lives of deportees and their families.

Specifically, my gaze was focused upon the intersection between deportation and deportability―that is, the stage when the state has already wielded its power in seeking to deport but is not yet able to remove the unwanted foreign-national who is appealing against deportation. The book also reveals how conflicting notions over entitlements to human rights (in particular, Article 8 of the ECHR on the right to family and private life) is manifested in people’s everyday life. Furthermore, in not limiting my research and analysis to deportable migrants but including their close relatives, I also emphasise how deportation and deportability affect the whole family, even if they are British citizens and thus protected from deportation themselves.

I look at a variety of issues in the book: due process in deportation appeals; migrant surveillance and control; social relations and sense of self; and compliance and resistance. I found that the experience of deportation cannot be looked at in isolation―it’s part of a wider process that entails state surveillance and control, chronic uncertainty, and limited scope for political action. These elements have implications for the way deportation is viewed by academia and others directly involved in its process. I discuss how migrants’ deportability is experienced in relation to official bodies, such as the Home Office, the asylum and immigration tribunals, immigration removal centres, and reporting centres, and becomes embedded in their daily lives, social relations, and sense of self. The lived experience of deportation policies emphasizes the material and human costs associated with deportation and highlights its punitive and coercive effects. Deportability marks migrants’ lives with chronic waiting and anxiety. As a result, migrants awaiting deportation make use of several coping strategies including re-imagining their futures.

In turn, foreign-nationals offenders’ understandings of their own removal appear incompatible with open political action and with the broader work of anti-deportation campaign support groups. Resistance is thus enacted as compliance with state controls (such as surveillance and immobility), which are perceived as designed to make them fail, rendering them ever more deportable. By enduring this power over them, foreign-national offenders are resisting their removal and fighting to stay. The book concludes by highlighting the argument that the interruption of migrants’ existence in the UK is effected long before their actual removal from the territory. It’s a process developing from the embodiment of their deportability as their present and future lives become suspended by the threat of expulsion from their residence of choice.