Review of Deporting Black Britons: Portraits of Deportation to Jamaica by Luke de Noronha (Manchester University Press, 2020)

Guest post by Guadalupe Chavez. Guadalupe is a DPhil student in the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Oxford. Her research interests include the politics of post-deportation in Latin America, diaspora politics, and comparative citizenship regimes. Guadalupe holds a Master’s from the New School for Social Research and is a recipient of the 2018-2019 Fulbright-García Robles research fellowship in Mexico City. She is on twitter @chz_guadalupe. 

deportation
The rise of deportations carried out by liberal states has pushed scholars to unpack the aftermath of deportation. Through collecting the stories of deportees, scholars make the case that deportation ought to be theorised as transnational processes that are constructed long before the actual event of removal and that these processes involve multiple actors, institutions, sites, and individuals across geographies, from the deporting state to the deportee’s country of origin. In Deporting Black Britons: Portraits of Deportation to Jamaica, de Noronha eloquently adopts this theorisation and, drawing on the experiences of individuals removed from the UK, interrogates why and how transnational deportation processes take place. de Noronha tells the stories of Jason, Ricardo, Chris and Denico, four Jamaican nationals who migrated as children to the UK, where they spent their formative years before being deported. Their experiences of racism, criminalisation, illegalisation in the UK and displacement in Jamaica reveal much about racism, borders and immigration controls in multi-status Britain.

The central argument of the book is that immigration controls (that is, immigration laws, policies, borders, enforcement and expulsion mechanisms) not only “produce distinctions and hierarchies, but they are also productive of social meaning, identities, and exclusions” (p. 25). More importantly, de Noronha clarifies that immigration controls are not simply “enforced in racially discriminatory ways” but rather “the terrain in which racial difference becomes meaningful is structured by immigration restriction and the legal borders of citizenship” (p.29).  

Chapters 1 through 4 are structured as separate “ethnographic portraits” of Jason, Ricardo, Chris and Denico. The chapters address how immigration controls reinforce class inequalities, exposing noncitizens to the “neoliberal state at its most severe” (p. 59). Meanwhile, collaborative schemes between police and immigration enforcement, as well as the proliferation of digital technologies such as fingerprint scanning have “shifted the dynamics of racist policing” (p. 82). In 2012, the UK implemented Operation Nexus which placed immigration officers inside police custody suits. The program essentially facilitates the process of detaining and deporting “foreign national offenders”. The stories of Jason, Ricardo, Chris and Denico demonstrate how such technologies and enforcement schemes racialise bodies across the UK, restructuring boundaries of belonging and membership for both citizens and noncitizens.

Chapters 4 and 5 unpack how immigration controls are “implicated in the regulation of gender, sexuality and the intimate family life” (p.119). Racialised noncitizens who fall outside the logic of “good citizenship” – those who are not “integrated enough,” “self-sufficient” and those who do not partake in the “heteronormative family life” — are deemed deportable by the Home Office. While noncitizens can appeal deportation proceedings on the basis of “private and family life,” immigration law establishes exclusive notions of who and what defines “family life.” As de Noronha states, “in immigration law ties of blood, marriage, and monogamy are favoured” (p. 128). While Chris and Denico appealed their deportation on the basis on “private and family life,” the dynamics and relationships with their loved ones did not fall under immigration law’s definition of family. Chris’s appeal was quickly rejected. He was rendered an “irresponsible father figure” (p.119) for having two children with two different women within six months. Denico’s 18-month relationship with his girlfriend and her daughters was not enough to halt his deportation. Because Denico was not legally married to his girlfriend, their relationship was considered “illegible and void” under Immigration rules. Furthermore, because he had previously been “absent” in the lives of his girlfriend and her daughters during his time in prison, the Home Office ruled that family separation would not be as harsh for the family.

To be considered integrated, a migrant (documented or undocumented), must be financially independent, have legal status, and they must follow the law. Essentially, they should have minimal interaction with the state. However, many deportees featured in this book describe their criminal offending as a means of culturally integrating into British society, challenging traditional notions of integration that operate under the logic of “good citizenship” (p. 93). These ethnographic portraits reveal how immigration controls and prevailing social, economic, and racial inequalities push racialised migrants toward “integrating into violently unequal, racist, and sexist” host societies (p.91) in the UK. As de Noronha discusses in chapter 4, “engaging in street robberies as a teenager was not a reflection of Chris’s foreignness” but rather a means for surviving the daily economic inequalities in the UK.

The last three chapters theorise what the process of deportation and its aftermath tell us about citizenship and mobility. The stories of family and friends left behind as a result of deportation reveals immigration controls to “produce and reaffirm racial hierarchies within [British] citizenry” (p.166). British citizens are positioned in different hierarches of precarity based on where they were born, their racial and ethnic background, and who they interact with. This is the case for the ‘multi-ethnic’ and ‘multi-status’ family and friends of the deportees featured in this book.  For those who hold precarious legal status, witnessing the deportation of their loved one affected how they understood and navigated their own deportability.  But deportation also impacted those that held formal citizenship. de Noronha’s point is that immigration controls do not protect the citizen but rather have “adverse consequences for members of the British citizenry” (p. 170). Furthermore, the conditions of displacement and im(mobility) that Jason, Ricardo, Chris and Denico experience in their country of birth pushes us to interrogate how citizenship operates at the global scale under a framework of coloniality which “fixes and orders space, mobility and populations” (p.172).

Deporting Black Britons is a powerful and timely piece of scholarship. By developing his argument based on the everyday encounters of Jason, Ricardo, Chris and Denico, de Noronha unpacks the multi-layered, multi-sited and transnational dimensions of borders and immigration controls; how these oppressive systems operate in host societies and transcend borders into a post-deportation context. This book is a call to interrogate the extent to which the figure of the “deportee” reconfigures notions about citizenship in their countries of origin. Furthermore, by focusing on noncitizens that have been framed as “foreign national criminals,” de Noronha challenges dichotomies between the deserving and undeserving migrant which prevail in liberal accounts. Deporting Black Britons should be read by anyone committed to the struggle against racism, police brutality, borders, and the actors and technologies that criminalise and “illegalise” the right to mobility.

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style) 

Chavez, G. (2021). Book Review: Deporting Black Britons: Portraits of Deportation to Jamaica. Available at: https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/research-subject-groups/centre-criminology/centreborder-criminologies/blog/2021/07/book-review-0 [date]