Post by Mary Bosworth, Centre for Criminology, University of Oxford. A version of this post, entitled 'Why it's difficult to deport foreign offenders,' was first published on The Conversation on 23 October 2014.
Once upon a time we knew an election was looming when talk turned to crime. ‘Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime’ Tony Blair famously promised in the 1997 Labour Party Manifesto, before finally breaking 19 years of Tory party rule. These days, the political impact of and interest in talking about crime appears to be increasingly replaced by matters of immigration and Britain’s relationship to Europe. A key exception, however, exists in the figure of the foreign national offender, who represents a familiar folk devil repurposed for this era of mass migration. The political fallout from this week's National Audit Office (NAO) report into Managing and Removing Foreign National Offenders and the media coverage of it captures this duality: as the treatment of foreign national offenders is presented both as a failure of sovereignty and as a growing criminal threat.
Yet, the NAO asserts, expulsion does not always happen and even when it does, it may not occur in a timely fashion. From the NAO’s perspective, as the office charged with scrutinising public expense, such matters are inefficiencies, ‘barriers’ and ‘challenges’. They are irritants of ‘cultural’ differences among arms of government and matters that need to be resolved through ‘joined up’ government and a better use of technology. No more faxing they admonish.
To be sure, there are cultural differences between the Home Office and the Prison Service. The archaic use of fax machines and the development of separate IT systems no doubt does mean some cases fail to be addressed, as anyone who has sought to obtain a new passport or change their visa status would attest. It is not just in dealing with offenders that the British government may not always be the most technologically savvy.
While the administration might have an easy (albeit costly) solution, the differences between the parts of government are more intractable as they relate to profoundly different goals. The Prison Service seeks to “keep those sentenced to prison in custody, helping them lead law-abiding and useful lives, both while they are in prison and after they are released.” This statement of purpose does not (yet) differentiate among prisoners by nationality. The Home Office, with its range of responsibilities, has no such clear statement. For those working in immigration enforcement and removals, focusing on detention and deportation, matters are only marginally clearer as their commitment to safeguarding borders and managing migration has to be balanced against human rights protections.
Notwithstanding David Cameron’s confident statement that ‘the buck stops with me,’ the NAO report reminds us that the governments are limited in their capacity to alter current practice and that politicians frequently under-estimate the complex legal and procedural framework in which the Home Office, Ministry of Justice and Foreign Office are operating. Nation states evidently have the right to determine who is allowed to enter and remain. That is a matter of law. Such rights, however, are not absolute, since they are subject to Human Rights responsibilities and protections. Trying to enforce a blanket policy on the treatment of foreign offenders over-simplifies these matters and overlooks their specific needs and experiences.
It is not always clear that citizenship should trump other matters. Nor, until recently, has society expected it to do so. We cannot, after all, deny re-entry to the UK of British citizens convicted at home or abroad, and nor can we (any more) send them away to populate colonies. As the debate over immigration intensifies before the next election, the danger is that we will lose sight of the principles at stake. Human rights are not just for foreigners. They protect us all. As we remove them from others, whether in a bid for electoral expediency or financial efficiency, we put the rights of everyone at risk.
How to cite this blog post (Harvard style): Bosworth, M (2014) Deporting Foreign National Offenders. Available at: http://bordercriminologies.law.ox.ac.uk/deporting-foreign-national-offenders/ (Accessed [date]).