An Italian Coast Guard Ship rescued 177 asylum seekers from the Mediterranean Sea but who were refused entry in Italy and the EU, and instead were detained onboard. Two forms of penal power explain these developments: penal nationalism and penal imperialism. Penal nationalism is the domestic form of law which relies on the tools, staff, institutions and material and symbolic violence of criminal justice to respond to unwanted mobility. It upholds national interests, reproduces ethnic and gender hierarchies, and preserves welfare state resources for members only. Penal imperialism is the externally oriented form of law used to advance extra-territorial authority and control over populations and lands outside the nation-state boundary. It is imperial as it draws on colonial histories and colonizing power to control populations and domains beyond national borders; and it relies on military power and the (no less coercive) noblesse oblige of foreign aid to achieve its aims. It is penal as it relies on growing criminal justice legitimacy in transnational governance. These elements taken together make up a new legal order, a structural shift, that confines, contains, and even punishes people for taking the decision to cross a border, contributing to global inequality in new ways.