Faculty of law blogs / UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD

Border as Method: Tracing the Internal Border



Time to read

3 Minutes

Post by Leanne Weber, Australian Research Council Future Fellow in internal border policing at the School of Social Science, Monash University, Australia and a co-director of the Border Crossing Observatory. This post is the first installment of the Border Criminologies Themed Week on Internal Border Policing organised by Leanne.

It seems that governments around the developed world are engaged in a never-ending search for ever more ingenious and efficient ways to identify and expel unwanted migrants from within their territory. Internal border policing is no longer the exclusive preserve of specialist immigration enforcement authorities; instead the function is dispersed to an ever-expanding array of public and private bodies including police, medical authorities, schools and universities, welfare and regulatory agencies, transport providers, local government, employers, landlords and other private citizens. In some cases, these enforcement functions may be buried so deeply within administrative processes that employees may be unaware that they are performing a border control role. After all, how many of us consider that we are acting as crypto-border guards when we submit student marks or attendance records in relation to our international students?

The effect of this expansion is to create a ubiquitous, structurally embedded border. The technologies used to detect deportable non-citizens are also diversifying. They include chance detection through street and traffic stops, workplace raids, entrapment, individual surveillance via information technology, large scale data matching, liaison with courts and prisons, and immigration checks at the point of requests for service. In many places ‘voluntary’ departures are manufactured through so-called immiseration policies that deny essential services, and through public campaigns aimed at intimidating people to return to their home country.

Tracing the many faces of the internal border is therefore a complex research task. Bordering practices based on information exchange are largely hidden from view, and the structurally-embedded border may be buried so deeply within the administrative practices of service agencies that it requires systematic excavation to reveal its workings. Mezzadra and Neilson have suggested adopting the border as an ‘epistemic device’ or starting point from which to study bordering practices that produce the dynamics of inclusion and exclusion. They recommend following the logic of the border across ‘diverse borderscapes’ in order to identify divisions and connections between different bordering practices.

This is the rationale driving my new research project ‘Globalisation and the policing of internal borders,’ which is funded by an Australian Research Council Future Fellowship grant. Using a series of mixed methods case studies I plan to critically analyse three types of internal borders operating within Australia: structurally embedded borders that enforce the boundary between legal and illegal immigration status; socially constructed borders produced by the policing of ethnic minority youths in public places; and borders created by new forms of welfare policing which differentiate responsible from irresponsible welfare recipients. The implications of these border policing practices for the equal and effective enjoyment of citizenship will be a key focus for the study.

In this week’s series of posts we take stock of some other developments in internal border policing in the Netherlands, United Kingdom, Norway and United States. Joanne van der Leun reports on the highly politicized attacks by government on food and shelter services run for undocumented migrants in the Netherlands. In an interesting contrast with Australia, where internal and external border control are rarely debated together, she notes that the crisis in offshore boat arrivals in the Mediterranean has been one factor fuelling the internal crackdown. This confirms that the politics and policies of immigration control operate at multiple levels from the EU to the national to the local. Marie Provine picks up a similar theme in relation to what she calls the ‘patchwork non-system’ of federal, state and local immigration enforcement in the USA. The result is a highly discretionary system that creates local variability and extreme uncertainty for residents living with precarious legal status. Ben Bowling focuses on one of the most controversial measures from the most recent immigration legislation in the UK that links immigration status to the ‘right to rent’ public and private housing. Although a current trial of the program that requires landlords to check immigration status is ostensibly subject to empirical evaluation, Bowling argues that the program – effectively a licence to discriminate - is ‘doomed to succeed’. Finally, Sigmund Mohn takes us deep inside the workings of Norwegian border police to uncover an expansion in the technologies used to police immigration law in that country. Mohn reports that intelligence-based tactics previously applied only in criminal investigation are increasingly being deployed to identify undocumented migrants to facilitate their deportation.

The contributions to this themed series demonstrate the increasing depth of the embedded border and the bewildering proliferation of migration policing technologies being applied to detect and expel unwelcome non-citizens. What these disparate measures all have in common is their power to create a climate of division and mistrust which marginalises and discriminates against lawfully present migrant populations and members of visible minorities, while creating pervasive insecurity for those who lack the legal entitlement to stay.

Themed Week on Internal Border Policing:

  • Monday, 18 MayBorder as Method: Tracing the Internal Border (L. Weber)
  • Tuesday, 19 May: Not Making it in the Netherlands: Excluding Irregular Immigrants to the Max. (J. van der Leun)
  • Wednesday, 20 May: The Boundaries of Belonging and the Immigration Policy Patchwork (M. Provine)
  • Thursday, 21 May: Denying Migrants the ‘Right to Rent’: Enlisting Landlords in Immigration Surveillance (B. Bowling)
  • Friday, 22 May: The Use of Informants in Immigration Policing (S. Mohn)

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style):

Weber, L. (2015) Border as Method: Tracing the Internal Border. Available at: http://bordercriminologies.law.ox.ac.uk/tracing-the-internal-border/ (Accessed [date]).

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