Post by Alpa Parmar, Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Criminology and Associate Director of Border Criminologies, and Mary Bosworth, Professor of Criminology at the Centre for Criminology and Director of Border Criminologies.

As term drew to a close last year, we were pleased to learn that our application to the University of Oxford John Fell Fund for research into policing migration had been successful. In this post, we set out the parameters of our study, which is in its early stages. We welcome thoughts and comments as we develop this project.

Our research aims to shed light on the changing nature of policing under conditions of mass mobility by conducting two case studies with (a) Thames Valley Police and (b) immigration case workers who determine whether to detain and deport. In so doing, we will provide unique empirical material to understand better the relationship between criminal justice and immigration control. What happens, we want to know, to the role, legitimacy, and nature of the police when they are asked to monitor migration matters? How do individual staff members do and perceive their jobs? What do immigration case workers actually do and how do they decide whom to detain or deport? How do they understand their role and its widening remit? What are some of the effects of the growing intersections between case workers and the police? How is information shared between the police and the Immigration Directorate and is this process meaningful and effective?

As these questions reveal, our academic objective is to illuminate the decision-making and discretionary space that exists between these two systems and ascertain how policing and immigration agents implement these processes. This is both an empirical and a conceptual task. We need to know how the system works (or perhaps doesn’t work), in order to understand what’s going on, and to critique it.

We are fortunate to have been granted research access by Thames Valley Police and the Immigration Directorate. We plan to spend the next twelve months observing and interviewing staff while also examining case files. We will explore the arrest and custody process, carried out by the police, alongside the data they collect on the person they hold. In conjunction, we will examine the referral and checking process with immigration service, and the decision-making process of case workers about detention and deportation. These aspects together will allow us to chart the nature and implications of joined up working between the two agencies while documenting the experience of those working within and subject to these two agencies.

By capturing the journey that suspected foreign-national offenders cases take from the police custody station to the Home Office, we will examine and document the role, involvement, and decision-making processes made by agents at each stage of the process. Subject to data protection, we will examine individual files will to understand the particular details of each case and how they are dealt with. Which factors are pertinent, for example, for a case to progress? Which factors stall a case? Questions about who the police check for immigration status, how case workers interpret legislation, and whether discretion plays a part in the procedural duties of case workers and police officers will provide conceptual focus points throughout the study.

Until now, much of the work of the Border Criminologies research group in Oxford has been focused on carceral matters, with a series of projects in prisons and detention centres. As we all know, however, those who end up incarcerated are often the exception. The police and Home Office case workers deal with far more foreign nationals than the prison service and private custody firms. As the remit of policing widens even further into managing migration, the need to understand how this impacts on policing ‘on the ground’ is both timely and important.

As the research progresses we will return to share our emerging findings. Meanwhile, we look forward to a series of posts in March on this blog by colleagues in Holland who have conducted similar research on border police.  

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style):

Parmar, A. and Bosworth, M. (2016) Policing Migration in an Era of Mass Mobility. Available at: (Accessed [date]).