Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Theory and Practice of Immigration Detention Workshop: Some Comparisons


Manor Road Building, site of Friday's detention workshop

Last Friday (May 21) two Oxford University graduate students -- Stephanie Silverman (Politics and International Relations) and Evelyn Massa (Sociology) -- hosted an unusually fabulous workshop, The Theory and Practice of Immigration Detention.

It turns out that Oxford has three vibrant centers devoted to immigration studies: The Refugee Studies Centre, The Centre on Migration Policy and Society (COMPAS), and the International Migration Institute. Drawing on the support of the first two, Ms. Silverman and Ms. Massa brought together researchers and advocates from across Europe to present cutting-edge findings.

A few tidbits I thought especially interesting:

1) No Detention Regulation in England = Guards Committing Assault.
In response to my mentioning during a Q and A that the U.S. holds people in immigration jails without any regulations, an eminent British immigration rights lawyer, Frances Webber, took me aside during a break and described a similar discovery she had made in 1997, following upheaval at the Campsfield detention center, just outside Oxford. The government was charging the people in their custody with various crimes associated with a riot.

Not only did the video footage reveal it was the guards who had been smashing the televisions (and the people in the centers) but the lawyers asked the government, how, absent regulations, could the government use any force at all?

Without regulations, Ms. Webber explained to the government attorneys, any use of force by a guard constituted an assault. The government lawyers' tacit agreement with this observation was suggested by the fact that they quickly drafted regulations authorizing, and also constraining, the government's use of force in immigration detention centers.

(Also, the prison industrial complex from the US is alive and well in England: the UK's Campsfield web page lists the The GEO Group Ltd as the center's contractor; the GEO Group is also a contractor for many of the large ICE facilities.)

2) Differentiated Detention Centers.
In the U.S., Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) houses people from various criminal backgrounds in the same jails and people are distinguished within them by different colored uniforms and may or may not be segregated into different sleeping areas. This system seems designed to maximize the flexibility of bed space.

In the UK, there are different levels of detention security and these vary by criminal background. In all the centers, the visits are open, not via telephones across windows, and the guards control movement by affixing wristbands to the visitors.

Some facilities are "open" so that the detained may come and go, and even at the closed facilities, people wear their own clothes. Also, at all facilities in England people may use their own cell phones and the internet.

Not surprisingly, escapes happen. But England seems willing to tolerate this as the price of avoiding collective punishment, the effect of housing noncriminals in the conditions of penal incarceration, and worse, used in the United States.

(Joseph Anderson, someone who appears to be a US citizen and has been held at the Arizona Pinal County Jail by ICE for over two years, recently told me that in the same jail people with criminal convictions have outdoor recreation each day but those in the ICE wing are lucky if they are allowed out for an hour once a week.)

3) UK Bribes Foreign Governments.
A lawyer who testifies as an expert witness on behalf of Iranians fearing persecution if they return told me that he had recently prevailed in a FOIA request and learned that the UK was paying Nigeria 250 Euros per deportee for the purpose of obtaining travel documents. Another participant mentioned an individual who was seeking asylum from Somalia and had originally entered with Gambian papers. Despite no connection to Nigeria, the UK deported him there.

4) Less Transparency in the U.S.
England has a Freedom of Information Act but the courts there are much more likely than they are here to defer to the government's reluctance to release policy or statistical information.

For instance, the government's response to a Parliamentary inquiry was to assert "diplomatic relations" as an excuse not to release data on the numbers of criminals with life sentences being deported to respective countries:

Mr. Grieve: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many prisoners from (a) Ireland and (b) each other European Economic Area country serving mandatory life sentences have been deported or removed in each of the last five years. [320071]

Mr. Woolas [holding answer 2 March 2010]: Since 2007, the UK Border Agency has removed or deported over 15,000 foreign national offenders. Of those removed or deported, less than three in every thousand previously served a mandatory life sentence.

Information from before this period could be obtained only by reviewing individual records. This would be a disproportionate cost.

As a general rule, it is our policy not to disclose the volume or characteristics of those removed to specific countries as it would jeopardise our diplomatic relations.
The above is quoted from a Parliamentary web site that contains other interesting exchanges on British deportation practices.

If you want more information on UK deportation data, this is the government website with that information.

Presentations.
The presentations ran the gamut and without striking a wrong note, from applying Giorgio Agamben's theories to Italian detention centers (rumored to be Europe's worst) to a British physician's grim and thorough review of detainee medical care. The presenters and their talk titles are here.

(Also, I just learned that "run the gamut" refers to the medieval scale, which is pretty perfect for presentations about medieval government practices. Here's what the American Heritage Dictionary says:
[Middle English, the musical scale, from Medieval Latin gamma ut, low G : gamma, lowest note of the medieval scale (from Greek, gamma; see gamma) + ut, first note of the lowest hexachord (after ut, first word in a Latin hymn to Saint John the Baptist, the initial syllables of successive lines of which were sung to the notes of an ascending scale CDEFGA: Ut queant laxis resonare fibris Mira gestorum famuli tuorum, Solve polluti labii reatum, Sancte Iohannes).])


Let's Drink to That!

After the workshop a bunch of us headed off to a nearby pub, The King's Arms (absolutely incredible fish and chips!) and I was able to hear more about the really interesting research the graduate students are doing, including in-depth case studies of foreign nationals in England's prisons undertaken by a U.S. student who hails from Legal Aid work in New York City. (It appears as though there is a lot more fluidity between the criminal and immigration incarceration policies compared with the U.S. For instance, in the U.K., failing to cooperate with an immigration investigation by, say, not providing fingerprints, can put you in prison for a year, whereas here it would typically lead to more time in detention.)

Another student is writing about how liberal theory does and does not accommodate practices of immigration detention, a study that is path-breaking in that takes as a conceptual problem an important but heretofore marginal fact for political theorists. Placing the nitty-gritty details of immigration policy at the center stage of serious theoretical research is absolutely the right move for advancing scholarly and public discussion of our barbaric practices.

It was clear from those conversations as well as a meeting the previous week with Professor Engin Isin (editor of the journal Citizenship Studies) and conversations with Professor Matthew Gibney and his students on Wednesday at Oxford that citizenship studies, if not immigration studies, in England are producing a lot more interesting research and analysis than on this side of the pond. One thought among my colleagues was to blame this on U.S. political science, which kills any interesting subject before it can be examined in real life; that actually seems right to me.

Citizenship studies requires developing heuristics and thinking about history and narrative; political science departments in the U.S. are terrible at this. The best scholarship on this topic in the U.S. is from law professors or those in legal studies but that has different constraints.

Finally, one disappointment was that Engin had told me Agamben's influence had diminished in England but at least two presenters relied on his work quite heavily. Happily, others were eager to wrestle with Agamben's work.
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Oh, my own contribution to the workshop was a Powerpoint presentation of my data on the detention and deportation of U.S. citizens. The information will appear in a forthcoming issue of the Virginia Journal of Social Policy and the Law. The article is pithily titled "U.S. Government Illegally Detaining and Deporting U.S. Citizens as Aliens."

I showed a photo of the ICE office in Cary, North Carolina that held Mark Lyttle, but forgot to mention that it was adjacent an Oxford University Press printing plant.

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correction, thursday: the original post misspelled Engin Isin's name. It's now corrected. Also, he has a really wonderful website, including a lovely "about" description, the updated version of W.E.B. Du Bois's version of Dusk of Dawn: An Autobiography of the Concept of Race. Engin's is an autobiography of the concept of the cosmopolitan.

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