Recently we published a photo story on life after detention where the weekly journey to the reporting centre features prominently in the narrative of an asylum seeker recently released from detention. Today, we take this theme further and publish a post from Chris Brian, who volunteers with the Bristol Signing Support.
Trinity Road Police Station is where scruffy East Bristol almost, but not quite, meets the corporate shopping paradise of Cabot Circus. On Tuesday and Wednesday (and the occasional Thursday), between 8.30am and 12.30pm, it serves as the UK Border Agency (UKBA) office, as the Bristol office is located in Portishead on the very edge of Bristol and therefore inaccessible.
As a volunteer with Bristol Signing Support, I have accompanied many people, although predominantly asylum seekers, to sign at Trinity Road. Occasionally, when someone feels that they are especially at risk they are accompanied by a larger group of friends and supporters to deter their detention at the station. However, this is not the 'norm' of what we do. If they are detained we are their agent on the outside. We contact their friends or solicitor. If we have their consent, we may even be able to visit them in the police station. Our primary task is one of 'moral support.'
The apprehension that those who have to report to the state is felt by most who have to do so, especially for those who have previously been in detention. Some have been signing weekly for as long as 12 years. While better than being incarcerated, those who sign perpetually live in fear that this week they will be detained.
Our other main task is to make sure that the Home Office desk officer does not overstep the mark. We find that they often ask for information like phone numbers which they have no right to ask, or they attempt an impromptu interview through the window of the desk in front of all others waiting in a very crowded police station. While one desk at the police station is occupied with immigration duties, the other continues with 'normal' police business. There are others who have to report who are untroubled by immigration status. They will be signing as part of their bail conditions, stemming from criminal charges, or as likely reporting for months to see if they will face charges.
The close physical proximity of 'migrants' and 'criminals' exposes the space they share in popular discourse. They have also much else in common. While I was accompanying one person, I overheard a solicitor announce himself to the police desk as representing an individual whose name I recognised and was currently being held at the station. It was someone who had been arrested in the 2011 'Tesco' riots in Bristol and I had been part of a solidarity campaign helping them through the legal process. It occurred to me later, that just as the 'failed' asylum seeker is denied housing, the 'failed citizen' in the guise of the rioter can be now evicted from their housing. Here they meet; the 'failed' and the 'non-citizen.'
We could draw further parallels, not least in the cuts to legal services occuring as prison and immigration detention estates grow. Despite their commonalities, the groups are also made to distance themselves from each other: association with the other 'other' considered toxic to their tenuous claim of legitimacy within what Bridget Anderson calls the community of value. As Anderson (2013) explains, “[t]he community of value is populated by 'good citizens,' law abiding and hard working members of stable and respectable families.” Both the criminal and the deportable migrant struggle to gain entry. In fact, it is impossible to do so; for it is their very exclusion that defines those who belong. While they may share similar experiences of court, monitoring and economic marginalisation, it is only by chance (or poor planning by the Home Office) that they do meet here. A separate court system, as well as distinct welfare provision, usually keeps them apart. Common places where they may meet otherwise are few and far between.
It's possible that any mixing of 'migrants' and 'criminals' may soon end in Bristol if, starting in April this year, all custody facilities become 'rationalised' in the Avon and Somerset area. The nearest holding facility will then be some six miles from central Bristol, which will likely pose significant logistical challenges for both of Trinity Road's reporting centre 'user groups.'
Interested in more on immigration reporting? See this recent photo essay by Border Criminologies on life after detention. Also, Chapter 5 of Ines Hasselberg's doctoral dissertation details the restrictions and anxieties that reporting requirements inflict on deportable migrants and their families.
How to cite this blog post (Harvard style): Chris Brian (2014) My Local Border Post. Available at: http://bordercriminologies.law.ox.ac.uk/my-local-border-post (accessed [date]).