Faculty of law blogs / UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD

Workshop: Detention Practices, Criminalization of Migrants and Border Control in Canada



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Post by Ana Ballesteros-Pena, Grace Tran and Jona Zyfi. Ana is a Marie Sklodowska-Curie Postdoctoral fellow (ECRIM Research Group, University of A Coruña – Spain- and Centre for Criminology & Sociolegal Studies, University of Toronto -Canada) and member of Border Criminologies. Her current research analyzes immigration detention in Canada and Spain. Grace is a Ph.D. Candidate at the Centre for Criminology & Sociolegal Studies at the University of Toronto (Canada), as well as an Immigration Case Specialist at a Canadian-based immigration law firm. Grace’s dissertation explores the legal regulation of transnational marriages, the transformative effects of immigration law and processes, and how intimacy, sexuality, marriage, and emotions are negotiated along and past state borders. Jona is a PhD student at the Centre for Criminology & Sociolegal Studies, University of Toronto (Canada). She is currently a research assistant for a project examining private refugee sponsorship from a sponsor’s perspective, and is part of a group sponsoring a Syrian family to Toronto.

On May 12-13, 2019, the Centre for Criminology & Sociolegal Studies at the University of Toronto (Canada) hosted a workshop titled, ‘Detention practices, criminalization of migrants and border control in Canada’. Co-organised by ECRIM and the Centre for Criminology and Sociolegal Studies, this academic meeting was structured within the framework of the Governmigration: Governing irregular immigration through detention. Discourses and practices from an interdisciplinary approach project. The event was coordinated by Ana Ballesteros under the academic supervision of Kelly Hannah-Moffat and Audrey Macklin. The project is funded by the European Commission under the scientific program, Horizon 2020, within Marie Sklowdowska-Curie Actions and jointly implemented by both academic institutions.

The three main ideas of the workshop—detention practices, criminalization of migrants, and border control—as well as the manner in which these elements intersect, served as common threads, bridging two days of engaging discussions.

A primary goal of the workshop was to encourage participants to reflect on the concept of detention by interrogating its traditional conceptualizations and broadening the limits of its use by connecting it with practices of border control. Through this approach, some participants discussed legal, physical, and political intersections of detention practices. For instance, Alison Mountz described how islands emerge as carceral spaces within the borderlands that reflect, refract, and portend the future of global migration and shrinking spaces of asylum. Through questioning of the mental configuration of the spaces of detention, Audrey Macklin considered the geographical and sovereign space of the country as a carceral space in her analysis of the relationship between Italy and Libya, and the apparent conversion of Libya into an off-shore detention centre for EU-bound migrants. Continuing with an interrogation of the scope of detention, Sarah Turnbull’s presentation expanded the space of detention by applying Britain’s ‘hostile environment’ as a case study to examine the carceral features of ‘the community’.

Another theme for reflection that emerged during the workshop was the current practice of detention in Canada. Some participants approached the subject by analyzing the functioning of the institutions involved in the detention of migrants and asylum seekers in Canada. Specifically, Idil Atak’s presentation focused on the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), which plays a pivotal role at different stages of the refugee system and makes life-changing decisions for asylum seekers. She further explored the cultural-bureaucratic norms and the everyday practices of the CBSA to show the impact of an adversarial and unfair process of refugee status determination for some groups of asylum seekers. Moreover, Aviva Basman  presented the changes that are taking place within the Immigration Division of the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) in response to the IRB-commissioned external audit which was released in 2018.

The analysis of immigration detention in Canada was also approached from a legal perspective. Delphine Nakache and Molly Joeck examined the legal framework of detention for non-citizens; both paid particular attention to the lack of a legal provision related to time limits of immigration detention. Additionally, they highlighted the absence of independence in the review process for detention decisions and explored the different ways to challenge the legality of detention, habeas corpus, and judicial review. Delving deeper in this discussion, Hanna Gros’s presentation focused on the deprivation of liberty experienced by migrants. She emphasized the fact that in Canada, around 30% of migrants are detained in correctional facilities rather than Immigration Holding Centers and as a result, they live and are treated as inmates, without any concrete knowledge of the length of their sentences, among other issues. To complete the analysis of the legal framework of the immigration detention regime in Canada, Sharry Aiken questioned the very purpose of immigration detention by reflecting on the steps towards abolitionism of this practice. By offering a critical analysis of the justification of detention in certain cases, she provided a reformulation of detention abolition as a response to the challenges of human mobility in the decades ahead. 

Finally, several participants interrogated the interconnections between the criminalization of migrants and asylum seekers and practices of detention. First, Salina Abji offered a feminist intersectional approach to crimmigration and migrant justice in Canada. To this end, she drew on the case study of Lucía Dominga Vega Jiménez, an ‘undocumented’ migrant woman from Mexico who died in custody in 2013, as her point of analysis, to unpack the effects of the contemporary crimmigration system on migrant women survivors of gender-based violence. Graham Hudson and Leah Montange scrutinized practices of criminalization and detention within the framework of sanctuary cities in Canada and the US. Graham’s research examined the role of the local police in immigration enforcement in Canadian cities while exploring policy perspectives, internal policies, and the authority of municipal sanctuary policies. Leah’s paper shed light on the U.S. approach to sanctuary cities by detailing a number of instances of what appears to be retaliation or revengeful immigration arrests and deportation proceedings of activists who critique and resist the US immigration detention and deportation system intensified under Trump.

The interdisciplinary character of the seminar offered the participants a great opportunity to build conversations and explore key concepts from different points of departure. The gendered and racialized nature of immigration detention, criminalization of migrants and border control emerged in some presentations, but should be further discussed in future events. Finally, the seminar resulted in an invitation to more broadly reflect on the changing nature of penal power in its interaction with forms of global mobility.

For highlights from the two-day event, check out the Day 1 roundup, Day 2 roundup, and #governmigration on Twitter, publications on the Centre for Criminology and Sociolegal Studies webpage, as well as the ECRIM Research group blog.

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style) 

Ballesteros-Pena, A., Tran, G. and Zyfi, J. (2019) Workshop: Detention Practices, Criminalization of Migrants and Border Control in Canada. Available at: https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/research-subject-groups/centre-criminology/centreborder-criminologies/blog/2019/06/workshop (Accessed [date])

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