Interviewer: ‘What do you think it means to be British?’
Miriam: ‘It is a passport. To be British now, I’m sorry to say this, but it is a passport. That is it. That is what being British means to me… I have lost faith in the country which I used to call home. I have lost faith, I have lost trust. Every single bit of pride that I had to be calling myself a British citizen has almost gone out of the window. They have basically sucked every single bit of love for the UK out of me.’
Miriam’s husband had been in the UK from his teens but was recently forcibly removed from the country, after a traumatic period incarcerated in immigration detention. The authorities have advised Miriam that she should choose between staying in the UK alone or leave to be with him. She’s choosing the latter:
‘I just said stuff it, if England don’t want me to live here, I will live in any country in the world with him, and that is it.’
I interviewed Miriam in her almost empty flat, days before she left the UK. We talked amongst boxes as she packed her few remaining possessions. Miriam, a white British-born citizen, described the UK as ‘the country that I did love so much’. But her identity, national pride, civic relationship and understandings of citizenship had been dramatically reconfigured as a result of the authorities’ treatment of her foreign husband and the indifference shown to her relationship choices and citizenship rights.
Mixed-immigration status families
The recently published Identities article, ‘My passport is just my way out of here’. Mixed-immigration status families, immigration enforcement and the citizenship implications', examines the impact of immigration enforcement on mixed-immigration status families in the UK. It draws on interviews conducted in 2015–2016 with the British female partners of ‘deportable’ migrant men.
The interviews show that the families of precarious migrants are also harmed by immigration policies, even if they are not themselves subject to immigration controls. They lose money and jobs, develop mental and physical health problems, and feel powerless and unable to envisage a future. Children experience damage to their wellbeing, behaviour and school attainment. Citizens describe this harm as extreme and state-sponsored, experiencing it as betrayal and rejection.
‘It is like your heart has been ripped out of your chest and thrown on the ﬂoor and stamped on by the British Government’.
Citizenship and belonging
Their partners’ (often lengthy, expensive and antagonistic) immigration battles also undermine citizens’ own sense of security and belonging in the UK. They feel unimportant to, and overlooked by, their government. Most of the women spoke of high levels of state intrusion, as well as being routinely disbelieved, judged and sometimes humiliated by immigration officials. People’s feelings of rights and security are especially shaken by being advised to leave the country.
The effect is an undermining of people’s trust in the state and feelings of estrangement from their citizenship. Interviewees spoke of being unable to ‘practice my citizenship’ and no longer ‘proud’ of being British.
‘I’ve lost all faith in my government, how they treat us. How can my government do this to me?’
Hierarchies of citizenship
These women’s experiences illustrate how immigration controls not only discipline migrants, but also the citizens close to them. And, as the Identities article argues, it does so in ways that expose the internal hierarchies and conditionalities of citizenship.
Equality may be central to the theory of citizenship, but in practice belonging and membership are contested and ambiguous. It remains the case that Britons’ ability to exercise their citizenship rights, such as marry and live with the person of their choice, is gendered, classed and racialised. As Miriam asks, ‘Why is my government doing this to me? Because I’m poor?’
Blog post by Melanie Griffiths, University of Birmingham, UK
Read the full article: Griffiths, Melanie. My passport is just my way out of here’. Mixed-immigration status families, immigration enforcement and the citizenship implications. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2019.1625568
In 2019, Musée d’Orsay held an exhibition on Black Models, and the National Museum of the History of Immigration held a year-long exhibition on the musical contribution of migration to Paris and London. Why do we need a specific show to give black models an identity and an exhibition to demonstrate the contribution of post-colonial migrants to popular music?
In my Identities article, 'The whiteness of cultural boundaries in France', I explore the underpinnings of France’s relationship to the culture of the Other, through the scope of whiteness. I contend that whiteness can be defined as a kind of capital embedded in the routine structures of economic and political life and is therefore a relevant concept to analyse French cultural policy.
I start with the creation of a French Ministry of Culture in 1959 and show that it was not that Culture Minister André Malraux and his colleagues were not interested in foreign culture, but rather that their universalist approach to foreign arts prevented them from considering the cultural dimension of the growing presence of immigrants in France. Over the decades, immigration transformed from an economic phenomenon to a cultural matter, and in this process, French cultural policies became perceived as a useful tool to integrate newcomers. In the 1970s, the French Labour Ministry subsidised the television show Mosaïques that broadcasted images of immigrants’ country of origin, setting a clear boundary between France and the country where they came from. In the 1980s, the French Ministry of Culture marvelled in the creative power of a generation of immigrant offspring and used it to celebrate French cultural diversity.
However, based on an analysis of the archives of the Ministry of Culture and several interviews with administrative officials, I discovered that migration-related minorities mostly have to justify the social benefit of their artistic initiatives. The administration’s reliance on cultural policy to solve matters related to perception of immigration in political opinion shows that cultural policy serves to negotiate boundaries in France.
In defining specific guidelines for the implementation of cultural programmes aimed at immigrant integration, administrative officials treat immigrants and nationals differently. This point is not to be missed by numerous immigrant artists or immigrant groups who criticise this double standard treatment. How is it that when a group of immigrants has an artistic project, they have to meet some specific guidelines that are not based on artistic value but on the project’s implication in terms of social development? The differential treatment due to migration-related artistic projects allows us to identify the privilege embedded in the routine structure of cultural life: the privilege is to be evaluated according to the impartiality of aesthetic criteria, as opposed to having to justify for its social impact. This set a clear boundary between natives and migration-related minorities: the privilege of the majority is to be able to define culture in universalist terms, when minorities are constrained with end goals.
The concept of whiteness can help us reframe the discussion around inequality and difference. Instead of focusing on systems of stigmatisation, it helps us shift our focus on the reverse: the definition of privilege. The lack of clear determination of what culture means in connection with immigration comes through as striking evidence of an asymmetrical relation.
Blog post by Angéline Escafré-Dublet, Université Lumière Lyon 2, France
Read the full article: Escafré-Dublet, Angéline. The whiteness of cultural boundaries in France. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2019.1587906
In recent years border walls have been built in different parts of the world in order to stop irregular migration. However, barriers for migrants are not only constructed physically but also discursively in political discourses. It is known that restrictive policies in Europe are accompanied by exclusionary discourses on national citizenship for immigrants, depicting them as either ‘deserving’ or ‘undeserving’.
Empirical studies have demonstrated that the representation of immigrants and their citizenship in policies plays an important role in how these policies are received and acted upon, both by the host community and the immigrants themselves (da Lomba 2010; Stewart and Mulvey 2014). As such, studying political discourses might contribute to the understanding of the socioeconomic and political incorporation of immigrants into the host community.
In the study presented in the Identities article, 'The labyrinth towards citizenship: contradictions in the framing and categorization of immigrants in immigration and integration policies', my co-author and I aimed to fully grasp how immigrants were framed in immigration policies in Belgium. Although previous studies have treated immigration and integration policies as distinct fields, we argue that a combined analysis of these two policy domains is needed in order to comprehend the full complexity of immigration policy. By mapping the different representations of immigrants in the wider policy field, we found that this is much more complex than the generally adopted contrast between deserving and undeserving suggest.
This map of discursive policy representations does not reflect a linear route towards citizenship, but instead a labyrinth filled with turns and barriers, as exemplified by the discursive categorisations and contradictions with which migrants are confronted. More concretely, within policy discourses a difference is made between various categories of newly arrived migrants, with the path for ‘criminal’ and ‘profiteer’ migrants proving to be a dead end (i.e. return). Immigrants who are initially labelled as ‘victims’ can later turn into ‘criminals’ or ‘profiteers’. If these immigrants do not subsequently return to their home countries, they are labelled as ‘unauthorised’ immigrants or ‘illegals’.
In the integration-policy discourse, this places them within a grey area, in which they are not recognised as citizens, even though they participate in society. Immigrants who are recognised as refugees arrive in the ‘probationary-citizenship’ stage, which can ultimately lead to formal citizenship when proving to be ‘good’ citizens through cultural assimilation and socioeconomic participation. Accordingly, it is theoretically possible for them to reach the exit of the labyrinth. However, it seems almost impossible for them to reach the status of ‘full citizen’, given the manner in which the citizenship of Belgian people of colour is constantly questioned (i.e. the ‘virtual-citizenship’ stage) and the participation of undocumented immigrants is not recognised. Only white Belgians are regarded as ‘full citizens’.
In addition, we unravel four contradictions characteristic of this labyrinth. First, human rights are used as an instrument of both inclusion and exclusion in the hands of national governments. Second, the citizenship of Belgian people of colour is persistently virtualised, thus serving as a reference for problematising the prospective citizenship of newly arriving immigrants. Third, the combined analysis of the policy domains of immigration and integration reveals how immigrants must be simultaneously powerless and active agents, in addition to being able to use both conditions strategically. Finally, unauthorised immigrants are also discursively positioned within a grey zone between formal exclusion and informal inclusion, with the latter remaining unrecognised by the state. These discursive contradictions have the potential to become actual barriers in the labyrinth towards citizenship.
The discursive labyrinth legitimises a wide range of policies and measures of inclusion and exclusion of immigrants. Given the persistent problematisation of the citizenship status of people of colour, we claim that this labyrinth might have no end.
da Lomba, S. 2010. Legal status and refugee integration: a UK perspective. Journal of Refugee Studies 23: 415-436.
Stewart, E. & G. Mulvey. 2014. Seeking safety beyond refuge: the impact of immigration and citizenship policy upon refugees in the UK. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 40: 1023-1039.
Blog post by Rachel Waerniers, Ghent University, Belgium
Read the full article: Waerniers, Rachel & Hustinx, Lesley. The labyrinth towards citizenship: contradictions in the framing and categorization of immigrants in immigration and integration policies. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2019.1590025