Guest post by Ericka Wheeler, MSc Criminology and Criminal Justice student, Centre for Criminology, University of Oxford. Her research interests include the criminalization of race, and the ways in which criminality is constructed around inequalities in the US.

In the wake of recent media coverage of 42 Jamaican nationals forcibly removed on a charter flight from the UK, Luke de Noronha was invited to the Centre for Criminology at the University of Oxford to present on his fieldwork on the lives of men and women who have been deported to Jamaica as well as their family and friends who remain in Britain. 

A plane gets ready to deport refugees to West Africa in 2015 (Photo: James Bridle)

De Noronha’s ethnographic research focused on five male participants who spent their formative years in Britain but were deported to Jamaica. The talk presented the portraits of those he studied, emphasizing the importance of portraying them as full human beings, ‘characters that live within a text’ in order to disrupt the dichotomy of migrants as victims or villains. This was in stark contrast to the way that mainstream media purposefully construct migrants as needing help or criminal. As Cohen has famously claimed, ‘if the offenders’ background, motivation and context become less salient, they are easier to demonize. This contrast between dangerous predators and vulnerable innocents allows the media to construct what Reiner terms “virtual vigilantism”’. De Noronha’s approach attempts to combat this fabrication by painting a fuller picture; he noted that the sense of the person is lost when transcribing, in particular the London accents, a stark identifier of both belonging and displacement. He defined his ethnographic portraits as descriptions of ‘a person without a place and a place without a person’, for he also spoke to family members and friends about the effects of the deportees’ absence, on them.

De Noronha stated that deportation is both a continuation of some forms of violence Jamaican nationals experience throughout their lives in Britain as well as a rupture of one’s life and family. He described how certain characteristics of his participants’ lives made them more vulnerable to deportation, such as growing up in care systems, being heavily policed due to being poor, young, black, and male, and their inability to gain citizenship papers due to juvenile troubles which then made it harder for them to find jobs. He also highlighted the ways in which Operation Nexus, a joint initiative by the police, targeted foreign criminals on the basis of police records rather than convictions, enabled deportation.

As noted by de Noronha, the number of foreign citizens living in the UK has increased from under 2 million to over 5 million between 1993 and 2014. Immigration control is more invasive and widely enforced than ever before, as border control has intensified and broadened through enlisting the employment sector, education, and housing to perform checks. During descriptions of several of his participants, de Noronha pointed out how actions such as street robberies taken by Jamaican youth in Britain were not extraordinary, as they were often committed during the peak offending age for all ethnic groups. However, he argued that immigration control may be central to the way race is lived, for the Black population, as they are more prone to police harassment and suspicion thereby contributing to the deleterious consequences for the black immigrant. Indeed, in the UK, police have disproportionately targeted those who fit the stereotype of an ‘immigrant or non-white other’ for years. Moreover, some studies found that ‘ordinary policing often involved checking immigration status when people from ethnic minorities reported crimes of which they had been the victim’.

De Noronha’s research compels us to ask what these stories tell us about Britain. The experience of Jamaican immigrants is not unique; rather, it is a continuation of the history of race and criminalization in the UK. The UK criminal justice system focuses highly on one’s citizenship and immigration status when analyzing national racial and ethnic statistics. Mary Bosworth describes race politics in England as ‘one of belonging, where people from former British colonies and non-whites may fall short of being ascribed truly British identity irrespective of their citizenship’. This relates to the criminal justice system because, as Bosworth summarizes, the racialization of crime and disorder ‘relates to a cultural tradition defining the law and the legal systems as a symbolic form of the nation,’ and for those who do not fit the traditional white British identity, they are more often questioned in order to establish that they belong.

De Noronha’s work promises to offer insight into the effects of these traditions on the lives of family members, friends, and Jamaican immigrants who are taken from the only lives they know and kicked out of Britain. It offers insight into the ways in which British identity has been and continues to be defined. In light of the recent banning of refugees from the US by Trump and the deportation of Jamaican immigrants who have lived almost their entire lives in the UK, de Noronha’s research invites us to question our notions of identity and belonging and the ways in which poverty, criminalization, racism, age, gender, and region shape them. As stated by Erikson, ‘Deviant forms of behavior, by marking the outer edges of group life, give the inner structure its special character and thus supply the framework within which the people of the group develop an orderly sense of their own cultural identity’. If we grant that race has been criminalized in both the US and the UK, we may then wonder about the ways in which the deportation and banning of refugees are shaped by our notions of British and American identity.

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style)

Wheeler, E. (2017) Banished to Jamaica: Portraits of Deportation. Available at: https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/research-subject-groups/centre-criminology/centreborder-criminologies/blog/2017/02/banished-jamaica (Accessed [date]).