Post by Ines Hasselberg, postdoctoral research fellow at the Centre for Criminology, University of Oxford. In this post, Ines presents research findings that were recently published in Surveillance & Society in an article examining how immigration detention and reporting are experienced by foreign-nationals as punitive and coercive forms of state power. Ines is on Twitter @InesHasselberg.

In this post, I draw on ethnographic data to consider how reporting to the Home Office as part of the conditions of bail from immigration detention is a practice that greatly impacts people’s lives and perceptions of safety. Data were collected in London during the course of a research project that aimed to understand experiences of deportability in the UK. I closely followed the deportation appeals (and related practices) of 18 foreign-nationals and interviewed many others facing deportation or administrative removal from the UK.

Foreign-nationals awaiting removal from the country or with an uncertain status as to their right to remain in the UK may be placed in an immigration removal centre (IRC) while their files are being processed. If taken to an IRC, they may apply at the Immigration Tribunal to be released on bail, which may be granted under certain conditions. Conditions of bail typically require foreign-nationals to report to the Home Office, at designated reporting centres (or at times police stations, see here), monthly, bi-monthly, or weekly. The terms of bail remain in place until the person is either detained again for removal or is granted leave to remain.

ReportingHO
Reporting to the Home Office is a practice that has been largely overlooked in academic literature, with the work of Alex Klein and Lucy Williams as a remarkable exception. Migrant support groups provide information on reporting, mostly alerting migrants to the risk of detention and how to be prepared for it (see, for example, here and here). Some migrant support groups have even established alliances that control each other’s reporting appointments so that if one should be detained when reporting the others can immediately contact his or her representatives, family, and other advocacy groups.

Reporting―signing-in or signing-on in current language―is, at least in theory, a very quick event. More often than not, it entails a few hours of queuing outside the reporting centre, waiting one’s turn to enter the building, and showing one’s papers. For the research participants, standing in line outside the reporting centre was a reassertion of their lack of status, a public display of their condition as someone deemed unworthy to reside in the UK and who needs to be monitored:

Now I have to do it every Monday, in Hounslow, between 9 and 4. It’s just awful. Even though I’m out, which is better, but sometimes I feel I’m being controlled you know because...the people I see, we are all humans, I don’t judge no one so when I go there people look at me differently, they look at me like ‘why is he here?’ you know? But no one knows so. People who are there are people who come from other countries. [Tony] But look, over there, signing-in, you have old people, sick people, people who can’t even walk... the human rights! There are other ways of controlling people. This is a humiliation too. Last week it was raining and the queue was long. We are not animals, we are human beings. [David]

This control is felt strongly, not only when actually going to report, but also in participants’ daily lives:

It’s sh#t, you are stuck, they are controlling you, you can’t go anywhere. You have a leash, you can go and go but come Monday and they’ll pull you back in. You have to go back there. And they won’t give a chance to arrive late, past the hour or go there next day. So I’m there. But at the same time I miss my classes. I’m studying and I can’t go to college on Mondays. [Andre]

Reporting involves spending time and money. Although asylum seekers are often given one-day travel cards to use on the reporting day, the same doesn’t happen for other deportable foreign-nationals. Research participants mentioned the travel costs of reporting as a strain on their already fragile budgets and the time needed to report as hindering their educational or professional activities. Importantly, the visit to the reporting centre was also a source of fear and stress, for participants and families alike, especially after the first time being detained while reporting. For example, David had been on bail from immigration detention for over a year when he was again and unexpectedly detained as he went to report. After a few weeks in detention he was granted bail once again:

Even today I went to report and my wife called me, she always calls me ‘are you ok? Is everything ok?’ ‘Cause she is scared! Because it has happened before. I went to sign up and they detained me. [David]

Risk, conceptualised here as the possibility of detention and forced removal, is thus remapped to the appointment at the reporting centre. The memory of detention informs the way foreign-nationals experience reporting to the Home Office. They become aware that being on bail doesn’t protect them from detention, and consequently they feel even more insecure. Being under such surveillance also has an impact on their sense of self: many described feeling untrustworthy, infantilised, and dehumanised.

Overall, my research shows that the impact of detention for both detainees and their families goes well beyond the actual time of detention, while reporting on bail―which allows a greater degree of freedom―isn’t a simple protocol to be followed, but rather heavily restricts the person’s choices, movement, and sense of security.

The full account of this research and its findings is available here.

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style):

Hasselberg, I. (2015) Reporting to the Home Office: Control, Risk and Insecurity. Available at: http://bordercriminologies.law.ox.ac.uk/reporting-to-the-home-office/ (Accessed [date]).