Post by Mary Bosworth, Director of Border Criminologies. Mary tweets @MFBosworth.

This week Border Criminologies is hosting an international group of colleagues, many from our network, who are coming together to discuss research on race, criminal justice and migration control.  Papers from this workshop will appear, some time next year, in a collection that I am editing with Alpa Parmar and Yolanda Vázquez.  The presentations at this two-day event will appear in the Border Criminologies iTunes account

The workshop – and the forthcoming book – grew out of a growing sense of dissatisfaction with the manner in which issues of race are integrated into scholarship on migration control. While scholars are paying increased attention to the growing intersections between criminal justice and migration control, as evident in the development of the field of ‘border criminology’ and studies of ‘crimmigration’, much of the literature produced remains strangely silent about matters of race, referring instead to more abstract notions of citizenship. Given that the vast majority of those subject to internal and external border controls are ethnic minorities from the global south, such silence is surprising. 

Drawing on legal and original empirical research from around the world, this workshop responds to recent critiques of the separation of migration literature from the sociology of race by placing such matters at its centre.  It also addresses concerns about the whiteness and the geographical imbalance of the academic make up of border studies and the spaces this scholarship has predominantly researched.  Participants come from across the world, from India to the US, Colombia to Australia to explore together how the law, criminal justice, and immigration agencies reflect and reinforce ideas of belonging that correspond to racialised hierarchies. By placing race at the heart of our analysis participants offer a fresh and urgently needed perspective on border control, moving forward the debate and understanding of such matters in criminology and criminal law. 

Migration and its control is highly racialised. Not only are most people on the move from the global south, but so are the targets of state intervention. Concerns about race and ethnicity often intersect in state and popular responses to the growing number of migrants and refugees seeking entry. The ongoing refugee crisis in Europe offers a clear example of how fears over ethnic and religious integration trump international law and humanitarian concerns, under conditions of economic insecurity.  Following the arrival of significant numbers of Syrians fleeing conflict in their homeland, EU member states have expended considerable energy closing their borders. Notwithstanding some important initial exceptions in Germany, Austria, and Sweden, many EU member states have been reluctant to offer them sanctuary. Despite considerable evidence of the economic boon migrants and refugees bring with them, fears about integration have triumphed, in an era where a number of European countries are grappling with the alienation of second-generation migrant communities.  Thus, events such as the Paris, Nice and Brussels attacks, despite being carried out by French and Belgian citizens, are used as justification to bar the entry of refugees. In this way, religious and ethnic differences are cast as inherently dangerous, and at odds with national security.

In the United States, mass arrivals from the global south have been met with similar hostility. There too, campaigns against the entry of both Central American and Syrian migrants fleeing violence have sprung up. These campaigns have been stoked by fears of criminal and terrorist motives. Legislative attempts by the Obama Administration to open pathways for certain, ‘deserving’ long-term resident irregular migrants, however inadvertently, has reinforced concerns about the dangers posed by those newly arrived. As a result, meaningful immigration reform has been stymied, Central Americans, both women and children, face indefinite detention, Syrian refugees are refused entry, and racist tropes about Mexicans as criminals have been reanimated during the 2016 Presidential campaign.

Historical and contemporary constructions of threat and law and order typically form along racialized lines.  Stereotypical notions of suspicion, criminality and inferiority are assigned to migrants, reinforcing common-sense justifications of racial differences that are already deeply embedded within cultural value systems. Racial profiling, fears about national security and processes of ‘othering’ convene within concerns about mobility.

Given the enduring racialised disproportionality within the immigration and criminal justice systems, it seems inevitable that such matters would become further entrenched in the growing use of the criminal justice system in migration control.  Yet, so far, border criminologists and criminal law scholars have rarely placed such matters at the centre of analysis.  Although some scholars have highlighted the relationship between race, gender, migration, and crime, for the most part the ways that the intersection between migration, border control and criminal justice result in a dynamic system of racial and ethnic disparities remains under-explored theoretically and empirically. As a result, and despite the obvious outcome of these policies and processes, the reality of their effects on migrants remain obscured in academic debate, while the diversity of ‘migrants’ themselves is overlooked.

This workshop and the book that will follow hope to generate and support conversations between critical race, criminology, migration and legal scholars with the explicit aim of foregrounding race and ethnicity. Studies of border control within criminology and law are flourishing.  By making this intervention now, as the field consolidates, we hope to clarify some of its foundational concepts and methods.  We will be tweeting the event at ‪#RaceMigCJ and will be blogging about the workshop too. Please get in touch either on twitter or online with your thoughts and contributions!

Any comments about this post? Get in touch with us! Send us an email, or post a comment here or on Facebook. You can also tweet us.