Post by Ben Bowling and Isabella Reynoso. Ben is Acting Dean of The Dickson Poon School of Law and Isabella is a Researcher at King's College London. This is the fifth instalment of the themed series on the Border Criminologies September workshop on Race, Migration and Criminal Justice, offering a summary of the main points of Ben and Isabella's presentation. The papers from this workshop will appear in 2017 in a book edited by Mary Bosworth, Alpa Parmar and Yolanda Vázquez and published by Oxford University Press. You can read the storify story of the #RaceMigCJ workshop here.
Race, ethnicity, class and gender shape the public perception of migration, the threat that migrants are perceived to pose and the need for stringent controls on cross border movement. Therefore, unsurprisingly, crimmigration has perpetuated a highly racialized and gendered immigration enforcement system. Markers of nationality, race and ethnicity often are crucial to the process of social sorting which underpins border control as evidenced by studies in various parts of the world. Data collected in the UK and the US indicated that black passengers were substantially more likely than whites to be stopped and subjected to secondary inspections at airports. Additionally, the intersection between ‘race’ and class, has been associated with problematic mobility as border police actively discriminate against and aim to “exclude poor people, and those who carry the markers of poverty (such as dark skin).”
As argued by Hartry, studies of crimmigration policing have, so far, largely ignored gender as a unit of analysis, and have failed to scrutinize the crucial intersection with ethnicity, race and class. However, the experience of migration policing is significantly different for women of colour at every stage and their experiences merit analysis. For a large amount of migrant women who are abused, “their immigration status becomes a source of intimidation and control of them”. For instance, in the UK a ‘two-year’ probationary period applies to those who migrate to marry or live with spouses who are settled in the UK. However, as noted by Mirza, women who are subject to the ‘two-year’ rule and are facing spousal abuse must choose either to remain in an abusive relationship or face deportation.
Pickering also found that the identification of potential trafficking victims or illegal workers at the Australian border centred on scrutinizing women’s sexuality, confirming the argument that “gender and sexuality are repeatedly invoked as sites for the assertion of authority”. Strategies involved searching women’s suitcases for sexy clothing and requesting explanations from women. These assessments were based on “subjective norms about what clothing was deemed appropriate for ‘genuine’ tourists, or other types of approved travellers”.
Perhaps, women are mostly affected by the direct violence they experience during their journeys, which is exacerbated by the militarization of the physical border. As exposed by Gerard and Pickering, women crossing the Sahara Desert in an attempt to reach the European Union often encounter what seems like private militia and soldiers who demand sex to facilitate their passage. Additionally, as explained by Falcón, most Mexican women heading north to cross the border into the United States have started using birth control pills because they anticipate sexual assaults. This suggests that border rapes are not random, or isolated. In fact, ‘El árbol de los calzones’ or ‘the tree of the underwear’ on the U.S. – Mexican border, where coyotes and immigration officers hang the underwear of their victims is a constant reminder that women’s bodies are used as pawns in the game of excluding the ‘undesired’ citizens of the world.
Falcón argues that the use of systematic rape at the border emerges once there is a regime where a majority of civilians believe that security is best understood as a military problem, and the making of national security policy is left largely to a masculinized elite and military apparatus. Indeed, Westmarland argues that policing has become dominated by masculine ideologies, and these combine to create an oppressive ‘male environment’. Most important was her evidence of how men in the police used their power as law enforcers to reinforce their own heterosexual identity. This showed how policing is embedded within and imbued with gendered and sexually stereotypical practices and ideologies. An area of concern, however, is the aggressive way in which police may exert their masculinity. This perhaps becomes reflected in the ‘enforcer’ role-type, which has become central to policing subculture and which perpetuates an aggressive mode of patrol. It is the characteristics of problematic masculinity reflected in policing subcultures that may present a problem for women at the border, as they become targets of this dominance and control exerted through sexual violence.
The policing of migration has become a transversal, multisite mechanism that creates an adhesive border accompanying a migrant in every aspect of their life. It endorses a racialized and gendered hierarchy. Those who are perceived as the ‘other’ and who bear markers of poverty, encounter discrimination at every stage of the crimmigration enforcement system. Women of colour, however, are uniquely impacted by crimmigration as they bear violence in their transitions, fall ill to stereotypes about their gender and sexuality and become prisoners of their immigration status when in abusive relationships. Indeed, border police are the first point of contact for migrants with the criminal justice system, and with the coercive arm of government more generally. With the wide acclamations of the failure of multiculturalism, it is therefore necessary to ensure that the first contact non-citizens have with the state is one that will not be tainted with discrimination, dominance and coercion. As Bowling, Iyer, Reiner and Sheptycki, propose, “We should turn away from focusing on the enforcement of laws that penalise people for being products of a system deeply rooted in inequality and hurtling towards ever greater inequality”.