Skip to main content

The Social Life of State Deportation Regimes:
A Comparative Study of the Implementation Interface

Final Report Summary - DEPORT REGIMES (The Social Life of State Deportation Regimes: A Comparative Study of the Implementation Interface)

The project ‘The Social Life of State Deportation Regimes’ succeeded in producing knowledge on the intricate working of deportation regimes in various countries around the world. This knowledge has been achieved by applying ethnographic methods to study the everyday work of the people who have a direct role in the implementation of policies that aim to regulate the deportation of illegalized migrants.
Although not without difficulties, the project managed to achieve access to the meso-level of functionaries in state bureaucracies as well as civil-society actors in NGOs and social movements that are implicated in implementing or resisting deportation policies. The project just fill in an existing lacuna in the burgeoning academic study of deportation regimes, which hitherto focused predominantly on either the changing laws and policies or on the experiences of illegalized migrants who were deported or lived under the risk of deportation. This project produced knowledge on the complex implementation of deportation by studying the practices and views and the ethical dilemmas that emerge in interactions, often face-to-face, with illegalized migrants.
We now know that discretionary power among the personnel of state bureaucracies is ample and, at times, crucially shaping the manners in which ‘black letter rules and regulations’ are put into practice. We are also aware of the fact that this discretionary power is sometimes being applied according to different sets of motives that can reflect tensions and conflict of interests with the state (for example, between different ministries or even between certain functionaries). This knowledge hasve implications to our understanding of the state as a non-monolithic entity that is operating with internal contradictions. It also contributes to our grasp of implementation gaps in enforcing deportation as a governmental tool for regulating non-citizens’ mobility. Given the ample discretionary power among the implementers of policies, whether we observe implementation surplus or deficit has much to do with the everyday practices that govern the actual work of deportation units. The social life of deportation regimes is thus proven to be crucial in any evaluation of policies that aim at the regulation of having illegalized migrants removed from the sovereign territories of states.
This project has, additionally, achieved the partial but necessary shifting of our gaze to include the work of civil-society actors within the deportation field of states. From grassroots social movements and local NGOs to international organization and supra-state bodies, we are now in a position to recognize the varied ways in which these non-state actors are made part and parcel of the implementation of certain deportation policies. We also have knowledge of the different interests that propel non-state actors to intervene in the deportation field, in order to either offer humanitarian and humane treatment to illegalized migrants or to advance their own economic interests.
Having accomplished an international comparative study of deportation regimes in countries worldwide, we achieved an understanding on the ‘global convergence’ thesis. As we show, the world is not moving according to one dominant model in a linear fashion towards intensified deportation regimes. Our case studies demonstrate important variations and, as the case study in Ecuador shows, there are also deportation regimes that move towards scaling down, dismantling parts of the deportation infrastructure (closing down detention centers), and introducing progressive migration laws that render forced deportation practically an impossibility.