Border controls are moving further and further into society. They’re already at the gates of the landlord, and with those who will have to check your passport at the hospital. And I think that unfortunately is going to continue, so we are going to all become drawn into that policy. And I think, as more and more actively we’re drawn in to it, there will be more backdoor data sharing agreements or broadening the immigration rules so they encompass further sectors to apply the rules. The concern is, this is the area where the rules are more likely to be misinterpreted, which we already know, and obviously for increasing cases of discrimination to occur. . . .
I don’t see a clear route ahead, it’s going to be complex, messy, and possibly very contested.
—Fizza Qureshi, Westminster Legal Policy Forum, The Future for UK Immigration Policy
We begin with numbers. I am at a Legal Policy Forum on UK Immigration Policy, an annual event I attend to glean the temperament of who is officially thinking what on migration. My first attendance, in 2014, was when the UK Immigration Bill was in the final stages of circulating through the Houses of Parliament. At the parliamentary debate on the bill, Labour MP John McDonnell described the proposed policies as “the most racist piece of legislation that this country has witnessed since the 1960s . . . aimed at setting up a regime of harassment for migrants.”1 The 2014 forum focused on “Next Steps for Immigration Policy—Regulation, Enforcement, and the Immigration Bill” and was held at number Sixty One Whitehall.2 In a London street lined with ministries, civil service offices, and monuments, including the Cabinet Office and the Cenotaph, number Sixty One is part of a prestigious state precinct located between Parliament and Trafalgar Square. Once past the imposing stature of the street, attendees are greeted in the foyer with the conventions of conference paraphernalia, starting with neat rows of name tags that alphabetically line burgundy tablecloths. Participants sign in and are handed conference packs. The program of speakers comprises a mix of politicians, academics, and practitioners. The list of attendees, running to over a hundred, includes migration policy and enforcement officers from the Home Office, lawyers and consultants involved in immigration services, policy advisers and members of migration research units, and members of organizations and civil societies implicated in border enforcement. After a weak coffee, a shortbread biscuit, and small talk in the foyer, we are asked to take our places. The conference hall is lined with rows of seats facing a lectern, where chairs and a table have been placed on the podium for presenters.
The annual forum’s resounding achievement is consistency. From my seat in the back row I watch how something as lively and deathly and elemental to the UK’s past and present as migration is packaged into an orderly program of expertise, sign-in sheets, name tags, suits, heels, PowerPoints, and roving microphones. Over the period of my research I became aware of how the 2014 UK Immigration Act circulated through social circuits first as an ideology and then as deeply damaging social policy. The act had been imagined in the discrete territories of expertise, gaining ground through the formats of manifestos and election platforms, spread through newspapers and TV interviews, and endorsed through conferences, backroom briefings, and parliamentary debates. Initially I assumed that all this was an important backdrop to my research on migration and street economies. But the act was to land with a brutal resonance, destabilizing everyday life and promoting a climate of hostility and humiliation, some of which surfaced as political scandals that extracted high human cost, but most of which remains out of view.3 The story of street life in diverse and deprived parts of UK cities is therefore also the story of how power infiltrates psyche and place, a continuum of politicking, policy, and ideology that gives shape to the street.
One essential way that I explore the “scale of the migrant” in this chapter is in tracing more recent formations of the migrant through the state. The sovereign constitution of society rendered by a liberal political economy ascribes rights to frictionless trade and the global potentials of offshore extraction, while asserting friction-full citizenship procedures based on a much more constricted scale of belonging. This not only consigns the legal articulation of a migrant to the national realm; it omits the inclusion of the scale of the human as central to this consideration. With the migrant rendered as an exceptional category, and migration as an exceptional change process, circulation and movement can be reduced to the apparently objective matter of numbers. Such intentionally narrow definitions fundamentally depend on the denial of migration as a multiscalar temporal and spatial process. Reductive annual targets overlook the histories of unexceptional circulations perennially necessary for exchange, renewal, and repair. They also obfuscate the movements necessary for escape and refuge and erase the UK’s historic participation in generating diasporic dispersal. The deception is that human movement, if exceptionalized, can be contained. More specifically, containment can be differentially organized through categorizing humans into differential subjects with respect to the state. It is a fragile as much as a brutal pretext crafted on the presumptions of national sovereignty and its apparent authority over an elusive planetary population. This chapter delves into the political and social conditions that are required to produce and maintain the configuration of a “migrancy problematic.”4 I explore the abstractions and mechanisms that secure the simplification of the complex geopolitical and cultural movements of people. While such abstractions might appear in policy documents and electioneering platforms as a coherent project, in reality the techniques of bordering premised on controlling migration numbers are messy and volatile, and increasingly dependent on substantial infrastructures of state violence.
The promulgation of migrant “illegality” within a wider spatial territorialization of the European Union has profoundly extended mobility to some while explicitly limiting it to others.5 The covenants of cooperation that bind the EU are neither unchallenged nor uniform, but across this expanse of varied political ecologies it has been possible to establish a punitive border configuration. Étienne Balibar defines this spatial imagination of a European “borderland” as inseparable from a human imagination of a European citizen.6 To sustain the qualities of this relation requires a political and public infrastructure of consent. Despite the UK’s Brexit commitment, it remains key to consider its association with Europe and the geopolitical continuities of bordering in which a racial order endures. Within the UK the heightening of border exclusions is legitimated through an interplay of symbolic and instrumental state practices. First, the establishment of rules around migration has been most singularly captured in the commitment to a net annual migration target, the steadfast nature of which has only been recently questioned in light of the ongoing failure to meet said targets. Second, the declaration of action is asserted by a commitment to control and hostility, which has been overarchingly conditioned by the splintering of migrant subjects into hierarchical categories. Special treatment is reserved for “highly skilled” migrants, while mounting restrictions and at times abject punishment are accorded to those deemed less valuable. Third, the mechanisms of dissemination incorporate decentralization through the enrollment of private corporations that are licensed to undertake, and indeed profit from, border management, detention, and deportation.7 Citizens, too, are required to participate in the rudimentary scrutiny of border compliance. In the layered spaces of policy forums, political party addresses, and party manifesto pronouncements, the management of migration is configured through its performative and pragmatic practices.
Among the familiarity of conference paraphernalia of the Legal Policy Forums on Immigration that I attended in 2014, 2015, and 2017, numbers are perhaps the most consistent of all the regular features. Numbers, specifically the increase in net migration to the UK, are of prime concern. The language used to articulate the fundamental principle of reducing net migration is clean and uncluttered: “caps,” “quotas,” and “targets” dominate discussions and policy responses. The quantitative vocabulary also has a pejorative grammar, in references to “bogus students,” “sham marriages,” and the migration “burden” circulated in wider public discourse and immigration atmospheres. In March 2014, when I attended the forum for the first time, the net migration trend, measured as the difference between those leaving and those entering the UK, was increasing with net long-term migration estimated at 260,000 for the year ending in June 2014.8 Fervent election promises to reduce migration had been broken, and the anti-immigration UK Independence Party had emerged to win important by-elections. The first program session of the forum framed the question of migration numbers, and with it the relative legitimacy and illegitimacy of migrants, as follows:
Next steps for the immigration rules—challenges ahead for regulating work, student and family migration:
How effective have recent changes to the immigration rules—such as removing the English language requirement for intra-company transferees and making it easier for graduate entrepreneurs to switch into Tier 2—been in supporting businesses and universities in attracting the “brightest and best”?
What more can be done to tackle “bogus students” who seek to exploit the student route of migration, and how can authorities and colleges work to verify participation in government approved exams, and clamp down on the use of falsified documentation?
Do proposals set in the Immigration Bill to reduce abuse of the family route of migration achieve the appropriate balance between the right to private and family life, and protecting the public interest? What are the next steps for identifying and investigating suspected “sham marriages” and civil partnerships, and how effectively does the Immigration Bill address this issue?9
Numbers are powerful; they are a concise and memorable shorthand that reduces complexity. Numbers become important not only to signify an amount or quantum; they gain emotive resonance through categories. The Immigration Act plays off the qualifiers of the “brightest and best” prospective citizen intentionally contrasted with the “bogus” and “sham” counterfeit. In reflecting on how “others” are constructed, Toni Morrison shows that numbers and categories are used to establish a hierarchy or “justification and claims of accuracy in order to sustain dominance.”10 In her analysis of literatures of slavery, Morrison shows how performances of precision are used to submerge the human qualities of the enslaved, while legitimizing the practices of enslavement. “Because there are such major benefits in creating and sustaining an Other,” she suggests, “it is important to 1) identify the benefits and 2) discover what may be the social/political results of repudiating those benefits.”11
In the forum that year, John Salt, emeritus professor of geography and codirector of the Migration Research Unit at University College London, suggested that the policy leading up to the prospective Immigration Act of 2014 had four key principles: to reduce net migration numbers; to be more selective in accepting migrants; to encourage and enforce the principle of limited stay or temporary migration; and to limit migration being a burden on the state. He highlights the core principle of selectivity:12
Government wants only the brightest and the best. Janet Dobson and I counted how many times senior politicians had talked about the brightest and the best and how desirable they were and stopped when we reached the dozens. So it’s a highly selective policy but one ultimately based on cutting numbers.13
Professor Salt’s key emphasis was to highlight the relationship between long-term international migration patterns and the state’s (in)capacity to control these. Engaging with the period from 2004 to 2013, he highlighted three core groups and their relative net migration flows: British citizens outflows, which had marginally decreased (this flow cannot be “controlled” by government); EU27 citizen inflows, which had increased, most notably from 2012 (this flow could not be “controlled” by government while the UK is a member of the European Union); and non-EU citizen inflows, which had been in steady decline (this flow can to some extent be controlled by immigration legislation). Professor Salt’s key conclusion emphasizes the discord between flows, numbers, and control:
So the overall pattern of net migration with the most recent statistics to September last year (published in February 2014) suggests that net migration as a whole is going up principally because the uncontrollable flow is increasing. A government trying to cut total net migration but controlling only part of the flows is in difficulties if the parts of the flows it can’t control are moving in the wrong direction. . . .
There are a number of lessons to be learned from the adoption of such a net migration target. First of all, having publicised a target, a Government is under pressure to prioritise the achievement of that target above other considerations. So, it doesn’t necessarily mean that what’s been done has been done for the best, it’s been done because hitting a target is ultimately regarded as being what is best.14
Numbers are also crucial because they sustain an illusion of accuracy, and with it the promise of control. However, what we might call “scientific migration” exists somewhat apart from the elusive nature of global migration processes. Scientific migration is tied to the political performance of measurable and controllable quantities. Migration, by contrast, follows the unpredictable relationships between the human desires and aspirations to follow family, find work, and find love, and the structural economic booms and busts, political upheavals, and environmental disasters. In terms of cultural politics, contemporary human mobility reflects how individual curiosity, creativity, and vulnerability travel via a constantly expanding repertoire of fiber-optic cables, satellite proficiencies, media platforms, virtual interfaces, and physical routes. Yet the illusion of numbers and the promise of control thrive even while being outpaced by twenty-first-century capacities for connection and extraction well beyond the confines of the nation-state. Bridget Anderson points out that “‘migration’ signifies problematic mobility. . . . Not all mobility is subject to scrutiny, but ‘migration’ already signals the need for control and in public discourse is often raced and classed.”15 UK election politics have been plagued by commitments to the number’s fallacy, consistently promising a reduction to net migration, only to fail to do so. In his address to Conservative Party members in April 2011, Prime Minister David Cameron confidently underscored his commitment to the “brightest and the best” and declared that net migration would be reduced to tens of thousands each year:
Yes, Britain will always be open to the best and brightest from around the world and those fleeing persecution. But with us, our borders will be under control and immigration will be at levels our country can manage. No ifs. No buts. That’s a promise we made to the British people, and it’s a promise we are keeping.16
At the time of this speech, the government had presumed that the primary target for a reduction in inflow would be immigrants from outside of the EU. In the same address, Cameron had asserted: “But this remains the fact: when it comes to immigration to our country, it’s the numbers from outside the EU that really matter.” However, the pre-2010 migration trends were overturned by the dramatic and asymmetrical impact of the global financial crisis, which generated a significant migration of individuals into the UK from Greece, Italy, Portugal, and Spain. The government’s failure to reduce net migration was in part an inability to anticipate the unpredictable devastation unleashed by a financial crisis expansive in its reach and discriminatory in its impact. But the inherent failure of state comprehension lies in the commitment to migration as a numbers game, and a political unwillingness across the spectrum of parties to fully engage with migration as a variegated and variable process of change. Attending the Legal Policy Forum in 2014, Sophie Barrett-Brown, a senior partner at Laura Devine Solicitors, described how inept the migration targets are at recognizing mercurial social and economic shifts, “The needs of the country are fluid, they change all the time. A numerical limit takes no account of the needs of the UK or its population, so it’s an entirely arbitrary target.”17 As Balibar suggests, it is the imagination of sovereign coherence through a closed idea of territory and citizenship that is politically rigid and historically inaccurate. Migration is a dynamic process that has been in the midst of the formation of Britain. It has been pushed by the expansion of the empire from the late sixteenth century, accelerated by processes of industrialization and urbanization from the eighteenth century, and currently propelled by global asymmetries and interdependencies in which the state holds various interventive and collaborative roles. As the migrant’s paradox highlights, migration and hence the migrant is a required and refuted part of sovereign societies, where the idea of the border is essentialized by the ideology of hierarchy and the presumption of control. Within this innate contradiction, the increased cultures and economies of mobility and migration are met with a political apparatus highly invested in securing an ideological border. The impetus of control continues to demand ever more discriminatory, violent, and pervasive bordering techniques, and with it a devastating racial biopolitics.
The racial countenance of the 2014 Immigration Act ushered in additional possibilities for discrimination by requiring citizens to conduct status checks on citizens. The act coerces teachers, doctors, and landlords to confirm the legal right to remain in order to permit access to education, health care, and housing. Carolyn Uphill, chairperson of the National Landlords Association, comments on landlord housing checks, known as the “Right to Rent” check. This check requires all landlords and letting agents to confirm the immigration status of all tenants over the age of eighteen, irrespective of whether they are named on the tenancy agreement, and makes them subject to civil penalties if they fail to conduct the check:
The National Landlords Association does not disagree with the premise that a landlord should always check the identity and legal status of an applicant for a tenancy. It’s simply good business practice to make sure the tenant is who they say they are and have a right to be here. And these checks can be carried out as part of a standard credit check. However, to make this a legal obligation with penalties for errors is an entirely different matter. There are hundreds of different documents which give a legal right to be in this country and landlords do not have the expertise to understand all of these. . . .
How much easier then would it be just to check a standard and recognisable British passport and when there’s a high demand for property, leading to a choice of applicants which is the reality of our housing situation in this country. Would it surprise anyone that the landlord is likely to opt for the easy to identify documents. The consequences of that are highly undesirable and include indirect discrimination.18
Having secured an outright majority for the Conservative Party in the 2015 UK general election, David Cameron resigned only a year later after losing the gamble on the Brexit referendum in June 2016. A narrow majority of 51.9 percent voted to leave the European Union, authorizing a rebordering between the UK and mainland Europe. A referendum that was said to appease the Euroskeptics within the Conservative Party could now reinforce the mantra of “Take back control” through a harder border with Europe, and with it supposedly more controllable migration. While the 2010 and 2015 Conservative Party manifestos had promised to reduce net migration to “tens of thousands,” the 2017 Conservative Party Manifesto could now leverage this cap in practical terms after leaving the European Union:
A COUNTRY THAT COMES TOGETHER
Britain is an open economy and a welcoming society and we will always ensure that our British businesses can recruit the brightest and best from around the world and Britain’s world-class universities can attract international students. We also believe that immigration should be controlled and reduced, because when immigration is too fast and too high, it is difficult to build a cohesive society.
Thanks to Conservatives in government, there is now more control in the system. The nature of the immigration we have—more skilled workers and university students, less abuse and fewer unskilled migrants—better suits the national interest. But with annual net migration standing at 273,000, immigration to Britain is still too high. It is our objective to reduce immigration to sustainable levels, by which we mean annual net migration in the tens of thousands, rather than the hundreds of thousands we have seen over the last two decades.
We will, therefore, continue to bear down on immigration from outside the European Union. We will increase the earnings thresholds for people wishing to sponsor migrants for family visas. We will toughen the visa requirements for students, to make sure that we maintain high standards. . . .
Leaving the European Union means, for the first time in decades, that we will be able to control immigration from the European Union too. We will therefore establish an immigration policy that allows us to reduce and control the number of people who come to Britain from the European Union, while still allowing us to attract the skilled workers our economy needs.19
In order to comprehend the pervasive border ideology in the UK, it is important to underscore the limited political imagination across the electoral political spectrum around historic processes of migration. In Gary Younge’s words: “For the last 50 years the British political class has refused to engage intelligently with the issue of immigration. . . . The Tories understand that fear of immigration is how they get votes; Labour understand that’s how they lose them. The upshot is that precious few in the country understand what immigration is for, what drives it, or who benefits from it and why.”20 Because migration has been conceived of, platformed against, and regulated through the premise that mobility is a controllable phenomenon that happens from the outside in, there is no substantive political engagement with migration as a change process of societies, where both space and citizenship are potentially more open and mutable. In returning to the records of who voted for the 2014 Immigration Act, only six Labour members voted against this highly discriminatory piece of legislation. They are Diane Abbot, Kelvin Hopkins, David Lammy, John McDonnell, Fiona Mactaggart, and Dennis Skinner, with Jeremy Corbyn acting as teller for the no’s.21 Failure to think about migration in more expansive and humane terms means that parliamentary and party politics is enrolled in the consequences of endemic bordering that produces deep societal division. It is a political legitimation of a border that cannot escape a commitment to violence.
The Pathologies of the Immigration Acts
The pathologies of the UK Immigration Acts of 2014 and 2016 emerge out of a significant increase in bordering practices and alarming procedures of discrimination. The social ramifications of the border apparatus reveal the gulf between the abstract commitment to reduce net migration and the human lives that are caught up in punitive controls. “The scale of the migrant” brings to the foreground the figure of the human within the vast complex of border exclusions, extending from global patterns of movement, across national immigration protocols of selection and relegation, to routines of everyday life on the street. The abstractions of scientific migration are made coherent though this multiscalar range of border controls. We all become enrolled as participants: lecturers, teachers, doctors, and landlords are turned into quasi border-compliance officers; students, patients, and tenants are rendered as suspect. Within the global architectures of scientific migration, the idea that a human can be illegal by virtue of movement is now pervasive. Nicholas De Genova reveals how the politics of “illegalization” has emerged, producing the undocumented migrant as an elemental “problem,” and normalizing hostility and punishment into societal practices of border control. De Genova clarifies: “‘Illegality’ (much like citizenship) is a juridical status that entails a social relation to the state; as such, migrant ‘illegality’ is a pre-eminently political identity.”22
Here I wish to highlight the social reach of bordering in the wake of the 2014 and 2016 UK Immigration Acts in order to highlight how cruelty, fear, and racism saturate not only the political landscape but also the everyday life of the margins. I explore the instruments of bordering by highlighting the increase in legal complexity and uncertainty coupled with procedural obscurity and bureaucratic fog.23 Given the peripheral location of the streets core to this book, it is critical to situate this legal and procedural volatility within the wider context of austerity governance, or “austerian realism.”24 Pronounced cuts to public services—including immigration services—are pursued through cost savings and proposed administrative efficiencies, with marked impact in already marginalized areas. For those applying for citizenship or having their existing citizenship subjected to scrutiny, austerian realism translates into the intensely time-consuming and energy-sapping engagements with overlapping forms of uncertainty. The reorganized but effectively haphazard Home Office procedures, overzealous private contractors issuing notices for potential deportation, and the removal of public access to legal representation to challenge decisions of the right to remain, all ensue. In the following chapters it will become evident how street proprietors and customers develop parallel economies to deal with this increasingly regulated borderscape. The street is the locus of where and through whom these relentless practices of everyday bordering and austerity become most apparent. While everyday bordering is ubiquitous, the street in the margins signifies a racialized space where bordering occurs in intensive forms. The examples that follow show how the regulations imposed by bordering infiltrate spousal and parental relationships and working life. But it is through the unfolding of processes such as the “Windrush scandal” and the “Go Home” vans experiment that we see not merely the pursuit of targets but the politics of targeting. It is in the circuits of racial and spatial profiling that the racism of bordering is acute.
The legal segregation of migrants from family life is one key example of how uncertainty gives impetus to bordering, expressed in the ambiguity of whether migrants might reasonably expect to live with one’s spouse or family or be able to visit them. The ambiguity has differential impact, depending on gender, age, and income. In her capacity as policy director of the Migrants’ Rights Network, Ruth Grove-White comments on the introduction of a minimum income requirement for British citizens hoping to live in the UK with their non-British partners:
It’s priced 47% of the British working population out of potentially being able to bring in a non-European spouse to live with them. And, there are all sorts of ways in which these rules are impacting unfairly, women are affected more than men, elderly and particularly young couples are finding themselves particularly disadvantaged. But, the area in which it’s particularly unfair, in my view, is around regional earnings differentiations. If you’re a British citizen and you live in Islington, or you live in Westminster . . . you are much more likely to be able to bring your partner in than if you live in Rhonda in South Wales, or if you live in Devon or Durham.
The impetus for segregation extends further into visas for family visits:
There’s also, kind of, a wider issue that’s compounding it, which is that Brits are finding it increasingly difficult to bring in non-European partners on a visit visa, particularly if your partner has already been refused a non-EEA25 spouse visa to the UK. It appears that you’re more likely to be considered high risk and that your partner will overstay. So, families who are affected, and there are large numbers who are, are finding that that separation is compounded by the fact that often visits aren’t even on the cards either.26
A further damaging dimension of uncertainty beyond familial status is produced in the obscurity of the procedures of evaluation. In the introduction I referred to the migrant’s paradox as the consistent production of inconsistencies in public policy and migration discourse. This bureaucratic fog effectively creates legal volatility, erratic assessment procedures, and potentially damaging enforcements. In the streamlining of due process through decentralization and/or privatization, the state produces inconsistency and additional layers of administration, the onus of which is passed on to claimants. On the street this onus translates into a “form-filling economy” that I will elaborate on in chapter 3, broadly consisting of finding local fixers who have the ability to comprehend the complexities of bureaucratic-speak. It extends to a varied provision of local legal immigration services, where, for example, one in ten units on the ground floor of our study area of Cheatham Hill in Manchester is occupied by lawyers specializing in immigration regulation. Procedural obscurities produced by the Immigration Act of 2014 further include a substantial reduction in appeal rights for the rights to remain. For those applications declined visa appeals processes, cases were previously formally handled by judiciaries and are now substituted by less costly administrative reviews. A firm of lawyers reflects on the consequences of such streamlining:
The immigration rules are notoriously difficult to interpret, even for the judiciary, as Lord Justice Underhill has recently noted. If the judiciary struggles to interpret the rules, it follows that the decision-making process for applications will be called into question. As the administrative review is not carried out independently and is not suited to complex determinations of interpreting the immigration rules, it may not be an adequate tool to determine if certain applications have been considered properly.27
The systemic shift from “a ‘legal’ model of administrative justice” to “more bureaucratic rationality” is situated within the wider context of austerity governmentality, evident not only in changes to immigration reviews but also to welfare claims. Robert Thomas and Joe Tomlinson map the impacts of substituting “administrative justice” for apparent procedural efficiency. Their broader findings show that, “Rather than accurate and efficient implementation of policy, what we find is poor decision-making made by junior officials with insufficient quality controls,” where “the prospects for administrative justice are weak.” Specifically commenting on the Home Office’s administrative reviews, they highlighted several inconsistencies. Systemic failures were related to the poor training of staff and high level of casework errors and rejections of valid applications, alongside limited quality checks and mechanisms for feedback and institutional learning.28 Within this systemic failure, it is necessary to highlight the connection between the newly authorized procedures of scrutiny and the atmosphere of suspicion ushered in by the act. While procedural inconsistencies and legal omissions have become synonymous with the act, Theresa May’s leadership of the Home Office as home secretary from 2010 to 2016 effectively nurtured a governmental animosity to immigration. In an interview in 2012 in her capacity as home secretary, May asserted that “the key aim is to create here in Britain a really hostile environment for illegal immigration.”29
The policies and social experiments introduced under May’s leadership reveal how the creation of a hostile environment that encompasses immigration is inseparable from the introduction of castigatory immigration laws and highly racialized enforcement procedures in daily life.30 It is therefore incumbent to relate the intended triad of hostility—ideology, law, and enforcement—to the extent of disruption in the life of citizens and the spread of fear across neighborhoods. The “Windrush scandal” that culminated in 2018 and the “Go Home” vans experiment in 2013 are two grave examples that I incorporate here. They evidence that it is possible to contain neither the governance of “a really hostile environment for illegal immigration” nor the category of “migrant ‘illegality’” without significant human casualties. Such an authorized ethos leaks into the everyday life of society with devastating consequence while producing a volatile space between policy and procedure, as starkly revealed in the unfolding of the Windrush scandal that emerged in 2018 and continues. The ship Empire Windrush berthed in the Tilbury Docks in 1948, carrying a number of Commonwealth citizens from the West Indies who were invited to the UK to help build a deflated postwar economy. Those who came on the ship and those who followed during the period from 1948 to 1971 are referred to as the Windrush generation, some of whom are shop proprietors on the streets in this study. In 2018 the seventy-year anniversary of the Windrush’s arrival occurred alongside the 2018 anniversary of the founding of the National Health Service. There is ample reason to celebrate the inextricable relationship between these two events and the fundamental contributions that the Windrush generation and an array of migrants made to the initial formation and ongoing workings of national public service and beyond.
However, the synergy and value of such relationships was rendered invisible within the lacuna of a state and human scandal, which was to obscure the citizenship status of Commonwealth residents by removing legal protection against their enforced removal. Commenting on the deletion of the relevant exemption clause, Francis Webber, a former barrister and vice chair of the Institute of Race Relations, states:
I find it very frightening that rights can be removed in this way, surreptitiously, with no debate. . . . It is particularly cruel that the people secretly stripped of these rights will by definition have lived here for getting on for half a century. The inhumanity of it, and the disregard for democracy, are breathtaking. The deletion of the exemption was clearly deliberate.31
The Commonwealth Immigration Act of 1962 secured the right of settlement subject to documentation, and an essential exemption within the Immigration and Asylum Act of 1999 had provided such protection for long-standing Commonwealth residents. This legal protection was omitted from the 2014 Immigration Act. The hostile environment emphasized by Theresa May, and requiring civil and public organizations to scrutinize immigration status, began to unfold. In the context of a lack of legal protection for citizens, a culture of targets prevailed in the bureaucratic fog of the Home Office assessments. Commonwealth citizens were the targets of cruel and humiliating enforcement procedures. Among the thousands of Commonwealth citizens potentially affected, those explicitly targeted were faced with a litany of prejudice from loss of jobs, loss of benefits, housing evictions, refusal of medical treatment, and detention in immigrant removal centers.32 At the same time the onus of proof—inordinately complex and costly—had been devolved to individuals at precisely the point where legal aid funding for immigration cases had been removed. The climate of “bureaucratic rationality” brutally intersects with a substantial reduction in protections for citizens made vulnerable by the law.
The violence of the law was directed at citizens who had never formally applied for a British passport. While the 1971 Immigration Act had granted those who had already arrived from the Commonwealth indefinite leave to remain, they were now required to prove their citizenship status in order to access public health services, pensions, and housing. To add to the onus of proof, in 2010 the Home Office destroyed the thousands of paper registry slips that recorded the date of arrival and hence length of stay of such citizens. The human scale of the migrant had been diminished to the point of being invalidated and nonexistent. In 2017 the Guardian reporter Amelia Gentleman started to report on the human repercussions of unfolding migrant “illegality” in the UK, beginning with Paulette Wilson, who had received a letter from the Home Office stating that she was an illegal immigrant. Her housing and sickness benefits were stopped, rendering her homeless. At the age of sixty-one she was forced to spend a week of detention in the Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre under the threat of being transferred to a removal center and then to Jamaica. Paulette said, “I felt I didn’t exist.”33 We need to recognize in this quiet and singular statement a primary feature of immigration governmentality, which is to erase the features of the human and our respective humanity in order to amplify the conviction of the border. It is a statement we will hear repeated again and again from the street.
The Windrush scandal encompasses an explicit reduction of humanity amid the deficiencies of illegality, not least of which was the government’s initial assertion that it was aware of neither the unfolding nature of the tragedy nor the targets that had been set for Home Office officials to tighten the grip on immigration removals. Numerous cases had been brought forward to local MPs, and Caribbean ministers had raised concerns to the Foreign Office in 2016. All twelve Caribbean commissioners had formally requested to meet with Theresa May in 2018. Their request was rejected. These signals were preceded by concerns repeatedly raised by immigration lawyers. The legal and human vacuum created by the Immigration Act had also been specifically detailed in a report commissioned by the Legal Action Group’s Immigration and Asylum Law Project in October 2014, titled Chasing Status: If Not British, Then What Am I? The report clearly identifies a group of citizens made problematic by the law:
[A] virtually invisible—and rarely acknowledged—group, who can’t easily prove their legal status (because of lost documents or poor government record-keeping) or whose status is “irregular” for a variety of legitimate reasons. Rather than living “outside formal society,” they are often at the heart of it: friends, neighbours, workmates and valued, long-standing members of our communities.34
The constitution of human centrality and marginality is a theme central to this book—not as a binary condition but as a dialectical interaction—where I engage with its spatial, economic, and political interrelations. How “race” is procured to establish these interdependent positions is a persistent thread. In the context of citizenship status and the making of a hostile immigration environment, “whiteness” emerges as a process that defines the racial underpinnings of the (in)stability of status. In the context of the Windrush scandal, it asserts to a racialized group the migrant status of being on the move, irrespective of their citizenship. It affirms that for some, citizenship status is always marginal, always called into question. This is “race” as a highly performative politics that exerts, across the global constellation of centers and margins, the authority to act with discriminate hostility.35 In Balibar’s terms, it is the license to institutionalize “a non-democratic condition of democracy” as central to the maintenance of a border.36 Through the making of law and the mismanagement of policy, racialized denizens are illegalized, as their lives become increasingly ensconced in bureaucratization and criminalization.37 On Monday, April 30, 2018, Amber Rudd, the secretary of state for the Home Office from 2016, resigned over the Windrush scandal.38 She cited her lack of awareness of the targets that had been set for enforced returns, having previously emphatically denied their existence. However, the failure here is neither singular nor reducible to representative individuals. The systemic failure lies in a political commitment to net migration targets at all costs, the presumption of sovereignty above humanity, and an ethos in which the mobility of some is secured by the immobility of others. It constitutively feeds an aggression toward “the migrant” that has been given rhetorical and legal legitimacy to permeate the bordering of public and private life.
Why is it important to foreground my research on streets with the particular ethos and form of borders in the context of the UK? While the Windrush scandal might seem an exceptional case, it is part of a pervasive atmosphere of hostility that has been officially heightened. What the hostile environment shows us is that borders are not simply national instruments to establish an illegitimate outside and then confront it at a physical demarcation of a border. Borders are also social instruments that establish an illegitimate inside. How this illegitimacy is made is part of the interplay between centrality and marginality, and the streets that are central to this book show how the border effect is pronounced in areas where people and places are designated as marginal. Before moving to these streets, it is valuable to refer to another case of how the border is institutionalized from within, with a particular spatial resonance. In 2013 the Home Office conducted a social experiment using a series of commonplace white vans with large billboards plastered to the sides as if advertising a commonplace service. The billboards served to broadcast an intentionally antagonistic message, “In the UK Illegally? GO HOME OR FACE ARREST.” The “Go Home” slogan is a colloquial slur of nationalist and far-right groups, and the vans proclaiming this slogan were driven around the neighborhoods of six London boroughs in a campaign intended for nationwide rollout.
The boroughs selected for the campaign were in places that are categorized as having high immigration populations, but notably also intersected with places categorized as comparatively deprived, much like the areas that are at the core of this book. The campaign was met with widespread condemnation and was ended after a month. However, the “Go Home” experiment must be viewed as part of “the vitriol of government rhetoric and an intensifying public mood of besiegement.”39 Setting out to study this interiorization of the border, the Mapping Immigration Controversy project makes visible the ties between the politically endorsed procurement of fear and the fueling of racism and xenophobia in everyday life.40 Among the contributions of the Mapping Immigration Controversy project, the book Go Home? provides a poignant set of insights into the political and human dimensions of such a castigatory social experiment. Performance politics, “where policy is operating primarily at the level of affect, psychological manipulation and appearances,” is shown to be core to how immigration policy and the commitment to hard borders is made real to a public audience.41 As the authors reveal, this is mercurial political gaming that deploys erratic state experiments with dire human consequences.
Within this political gaming, numbers serve to construct a sense of evidence, accuracy, and control, where “statistical government” is performed through the measurement of and accounting for population dynamics.42 But not all numbers are equal, it seems, and as we have observed in the repeated political mantra of the “brightest and the best,” numbers are used to sort and stratify people. “The idea of a ‘points-based system,’ rooted in calculations of human capital, has the veneer of administrative governmentality, but it conceals a more violent sovereign logic focused on inclusion and exclusion.”43 In actively promoting “the best” immigrant through the neoliberal proclivity for high income, particular educational qualifications, and a suitable age profile, the points-based system simultaneously elevates and relegates. Processes of relegation are a central feature of the evolving nature of sovereign democracies, and as we have seen from the Windrush scandal and “Go Home” van examples, human relegations are applied with broad effect and discriminate most acutely on racial grounds. We know from the histories of how regimes of hierarchy circulate in everyday life that state-authorized experiments have extensive psychological reach, precisely because they are located on our streets, adjacent to our schools, and inside our homes. The truncated “Go Home” experiment reportedly resulted in eleven people leaving the UK, but the affective impact was far wider. In an era of assertive border talk and its racialized constitution, research points to an increase in fear and incidents of racism, revealing the links between state-legitimated aggression and the human consequences of everyday bordering.44
The Scale of the Street
How does the state impetus of pervasive borders and authorized aggressions infiltrate life on the street? As shown, the links between state and street are sustained by the discipline of immigration control. This permeates neighborhoods through illusive questions of “Who falls foul?” and “Are they coming for me?” Yet at the same time, the streets in these urban peripheries host a civic repertoire of allegiances, associations, and services that partially help with circumventing the borders of the state. Mosques, churches, gurdwaras, libraries, law centers, political party offices, community halls, bookshops, restaurants, and barbershops are all part of a quotidian architecture of support. These spaces are complemented by human infrastructures that attend to the complexities of immigration law ranging from agile form-filling economies, adapted one-stop immigration shops, and a growing core of lawyers’ offices that specialize in immigration law. Comprehending the “the scale of the migrant” requires tracing links between how policy circulates through the echelons of power and how it is absorbed in the front rooms and back rooms of the street. I have recounted the emerging life of the Immigration Act largely from the official spaces of expertise—policy forums, election platforms, Parliament, press—to emphasize how human scale is compressed by a national imperative. This diminishes the life and space available to the migrant and in some cases altogether annihilates it from view.
I now shift the vantage point to the street, to explore crucial multiscalar connections between up close human interactions and planetary interdependencies that stretch past sovereign limits. This is to expand our sense of the everyday and to underscore that while streets in edge territories are constituted by multiple processes of displacement, they are also spaces in which the logics of sovereignty and segregation can be challenged and subverted. The scale of the street is immersed in the daily formations of cultural and political associations from which we gain different insights into the all-too-rigid state articulations of migration and citizenship. From this space we can question the adequacy of authority in comprehending how the margins are lived. From the street we see the state: how liberal democracies differentially conceive of citizens in terms of class, gender, “race,” and migration status; and how citizens conceive of belonging in terms of journeys, crossings, encounters, and contestations. From the street it is also possible to see the world and the authority of knowledge in relation to dominant paradigm of borders. In tracing the array of proprietors’ journeys to the street, a global impetus is starkly apparent: global exploitations map onto local inequalities, and colonial pasts map onto postcolonial presents. At the same time, the street hints at wide geographies of interdependence. From the street we can see the workings of a “multilingual citizenship,” the social mixings that emerge outside of the confines of ethnic particularism, and the trials and errors of making work that depends on cultural exchange.45 Shifting the vantage point is as much about a different way of doing research as it is about seeking out a different perspective.
From this position the “scale of the migrant” is about writing the street as world, engaging with life lived across a compendium of spaces and temporalities. If numbers and categories are the instruments and methods for limiting the scale of the migrant, part of writing the street as world is to experiment with approaches that disrupt this confinement. One central concern is to hold sight of the power relations that shape global displacement and urban emplacement, while recognizing the asymmetrical power relations in doing ethnographic research. For me these challenges extend to drawing the street as world and, in Huda Tayob’s words, “how drawings and the knowledge they contain move between the field and the word at large.”46 From an early stage of doing street research in my doctoral studies I had a drawing of a map in mind—a square spliced horizontally into two equal halves, with an equator marking a latitude, not a division, between a global map of the world below and a local map of the street above. The lines that connect these two halves are tracings of multiplicity, from the birthplaces of the proprietors, to their protracted journeys, to their respective shop on the street. The scale of the migrant potentially appears as a line both connected across space as well as stretched across multiple scales. To me it was as natural to draw the street as it was to walk it, and I became compelled by the possibility of repeating these drawings, not as completed illustrations but as clues for what I could not see or know, and as prompts for further questions. The lines that connect proprietors’ origins to shops along a street cut across the idea of a distinct near and far, raising questions: When were these journeys first made, and why? Why this array of people and not another? Why the convergence on this street and not another? What social life and mobilizations are possible in these arrangements of people and places? I present five of the maps here as an introduction to these worldwide streets: Rye Lane in London (Figure 1), Rookery Road in Birmingham (Figure 2), Stapleton Road in Bristol (Figure 3), Narborough Road in Leicester (Figure 4), and Cheetham Hill in Manchester (Figure 5).
In this visual analysis of movement and scale I resort to stiff categories of reference, such as “country of origin.” I do this not to fossilize evolving human connections to the world but to relate these origins to social effects, such as (im)mobility, (dis)location, and (un)employment. The scale of the street emerges precisely through the crisscrossings of differing lines that depict these migrant journeys as multifarious. Together these incorporate varied racializations and lived experiences that preclude an all-encompassing picture of the postcolonial migrant condition. I hope these maps might be read simultaneously as unfinished research records and open questions about human mobility. In their linear formality they contain all the conundrums of doing research that is invested in the intimate, influenced by the planetary, and structured by the global. They employ categories yet seek to represent movement across boundaries; they refer to large arrangements of space yet attempt to allude to the individual; they fix a moment in time but are resonant with history. They are entry points to the chapters that follow, and reflect the entanglement of histories, extractions, journeys, crossings, landings, futures.
The patterns show how, despite a significant variation among proprietors, these individuals had all become traders on streets in the more deprived parts of Birmingham, Bristol, Leicester, London, and Manchester. The maps capture a wide range of countries of origin across proprietors but they only hint at the varied routes and periods of entry into the UK. The majority of proprietors had work experiences other than street trade prior to their migration, and many proprietors had an education beyond high school. This challenges the common parlance and literatures on urban retail of how the “first-generation” shopkeeper establishes the foundation for “second-generation” professional mobility. As highlighted in the introduction, on these streets it is not unusual for a form of reverse mobility to occur—for the professional to become the trader. The majority of proprietors spoke three languages, but often more. Language was not simply a reflection of regional ties and familiarity of ethnic dialects; more often it reflected a twenty-first-century citizenship capacity incumbent on those who, because of impositions of immobility, must engage with what Les Back and Shamser Sinha capture as “divided connectedness.”47 There is also a pattern—invisible in the straight lines across world and street—of “twice, thrice, plus migrants” where individuals had, over a protracted time period, undertaken numerous journeys and encountered multiple border regimes in order to finally become an accepted citizen.48 Thus there is a thickening of border density across global space, which suspends and extends the citizenship process through combinations of constraints around visas, the right to work, and access to resources.
In turning to the street, questions of representation inevitably emerge: What are the expressions of citizenship? Will it be possible to engage with numbers without reducing complexity? Will I be able to see the borders? These questions arise out of a larger consciousness of what it means to engage with racialization from the limits of white space and positionality, and they occupy a personal and political concern. Elijah Anderson refers to “the white space” as a normative frame in Western society that marginalizes black life, reducing and jeopardizing human potential.49 The ubiquity of white space that Anderson writes about in the context of race in the United States is sustained by assumed hierarchies and a worldview of Western primacy. White space also resides in formations of immigration policy, in planning processes, and in the academic production of knowledge. What does it mean, intellectually and personally, to pursue research in ways that recognize white space without acceding to it? This project started from the premise of thinking about how global migration intersects with urban marginalization. As I delved into the spaces of state and street it was apparent that pronounced border-making is essentially about discrimination, where the construction of racism and “race” occupies a foreground in border logics. As a migrant I am an outsider of sorts, but my assigned white status means that I occupy a reality outside of relentless prejudice. Could I find a piece of the pavement from which to observe the street, recognizing my own part in it? Could I find ways of participating in wider discussions about the migrant street not only in terms of its relegation but as a place for other potentials of citizenship?
An elemental timbre that oscillates against the white space within which the politics of migration and scientific migration reside is a worldview explored by Sylvia Wynter (and others) and captured by Katherine McKittrick:
This world view, engendered both across and outside a colonial frame, holds in it the possibility of doing and unsettling—not replacing and or occupying—Western conceptions of what it means to be human. . . .
Being human, in this context, signals not a noun but a verb. Being human is a praxis of humanness that does not dwell on the static empiricism of the unfittest and the downtrodden and situate the most marginalised within the incarcerated colonial categorisation of oppression; being human as praxis is, to borrow from Maturana and Varela, “the realisation of the living.”50
Conversations between Wynter and McKittrick on “being human as praxis” constitute several threads of exploration. One elemental commitment is to engage with multiple vantage points—to spread and vary ways of seeing, listening, and feeling—not only across cultures and disciplines but also across creative forms. This speaks, for example, to Manthia Diawara’s pursuit of “a solidarity of emotions” in making his film An Opera of the World.51 The film explores human migration from West Africa to Europe, combining a European operatic art form with musical structure from Mali, to overlap the politics of Mediterranean crossings with the lives of those who must risk the journey and those who insist on the border. The film is one of many layers of making and understanding, emerging from a libretto by Koulsy Lamko, a poet and playwright from Chad; interpreted by Wasis Diop in Bintu Were, A Sahel Opera, staged in Bamako on the banks of the Niger River; and translated by Diawara in entangling performances and interviews across space.52 These layers of experience and translation propagate a conversation between the human and the inhumane. Starting from “a solidarity of emotions,” these layers redefine the “migration crisis” not as a crisis of human mobility but as a crisis of political imagination to engage with mobility as integral to world citizenship.
In writing on the cultural reverberation of the 808 drum machine, McKittrick and Weheliye unwind another thread, exploring the relationships between our humanity and our immersion in objects, technologies, stories, textures and rhythms. Such overlaps provide ways of navigating and re-forming reality through: “a lens or a framework or a worldview that is cognisant of, but does not seek results or answers that are beholden to either oppression or resistance.”53 For me this way in that is offered by McKittrick and Weheliye is substantive and procedural; I arrived at the discipline of sociology via architecture, and the only way I know how to start street research is through an immersion in place, beginning with walking. Absorbing a visceral sense of space is part of this beginning, allowing for time to look before engaging in talking. This nascent stage, while open is also mediated, as John Berger reveals: “To look is an act of choice. As a result of this act, what we see is brought within our reach.”54 Starting research each time in a city anew, the beginning of each street walk is an encounter that cannot be fully anticipated and allows the street to slowly seep through. While we worked in teams—collaborations among sociologists, architects, geographers, anthropologists—we tended to start by walking alone. When you are walking at your own pace, street life initially emerges as surfaces and sounds. Gaining a footing, you step indoors to speak to proprietors and look at interior layouts. Then the street begins to emerge through a labyrinth of intricacies, collections of rooms each distinct yet somehow connected. Surfaces and sounds share space with objects, displays, and subdivisions, a street paraphernalia of mercantile pragmatics and cultural preferences. Sometimes we walked with local residents and activists, expanding our ways of seeing. Gradually the politics of the street seeps through the tighter and slower circuits of conversations and observations. Then the border becomes visible and the romance of walking is tempered by the conditions of discrimination.
Working in cross-disciplinary groups prompts questions about how we engage with varied forms of finding out and “telling about society.”55 We were keen to think with scale bringing in the geographer’s penchant for near and far interrelations. But rather than seeing the shop nested in the street, nested in the globe, we explored ways in which culture and political economy are mutually constitutive across scales. In this sense, scale is relational and not hierarchical. We were keen to pay attention to the experiences on the street and how these amount to “tensions, shifts, and uncertainties, the intricate forms of unevenness and confusion,” explained by Raymond Williams as the “structures of feeling” through which social life emerges.56 We experimented with combinations of face-to-face surveys, observations, and mappings as ways of expanding our street encounters. Walking was followed by surveys with proprietors along the streets. These surveys frequently lasted no more than ten minutes, allowing us short entry to the interiors at street level. In this early process of walking and listening, the street emerged as a loose cohesion of highly variegated spaces and transactions. From these surveys we gained a piece-by-piece insight of the historic and emergent life of street economies in marginalized parts of the city. We made sense of the pieces by looking for patterns, tracing a convergence of circumstances as much as divergent shifts.
Before moving onto the street in the following chapters, it has been crucial to recognize how the scale of the migrant, as rendered in targets and quotas, is an abstraction of human mobility. Here the numbers serve to produce an illegal and undesirable subject, and an illusion of control. Immigration policies in the UK, firmly embedded in hostility, have spawned an impenetrable set of legislations and an erratic set of procedures. They place the migrant at an eternal borderline, never acquiring the recognition of full citizenship. It is a scale of representation in which nativism is centralized and humanity is decentered, and its reductive logic will require increasing aggression to sustain it. Numbers are part of establishing an expertise in scientific migration, contributing to a legitimation of bordering in society. The Windrush scandal and “Go Home” van experiment reveal the nature of state control and racism, and the fear and anxiety it sustains from within. “Being human as praxis” is a way of understanding migration within the scale of our planet, thinking with migration as a historical, human process and with the kinds of displacements that are still to come. From the perspective of multiple vantage points, mobility might be understood as a worldview, a way of expanding and enriching our shared connections, and a way of addressing the challenges of displacement and refuge together. It is a worldview that requires political imaginations around a different sense of border as crossing, and spatial infrastructures with the capacity for adaptation and recalibration. Onward to the street.