Hindering the Deportation Machine. An Ethnography of Power and Resistance in Immigration Detention

21 Pages Posted: 11 Apr 2015

See all articles by Giuseppe Campesi

Giuseppe Campesi

Università degli Studi di Bari “Aldo Moro” (UNIBA)

Date Written: 2015


The article explores the relationship between immigration detention and criminal justice by presenting the results of an ethnographic research that was carried out inside one of the main Italian pre-removal detention facilities. Challenging the idea that immigration detention centres are to be considered as legal black holes where migrants are reduced to “bare life” and subjected to a form of absolute power, this article suggests that detained migrants possess an extraordinary ability to resist and undermine the deportation machine, reproducing a condition that, reversing Nicolas De Genova’s formula, I would define as of their “undeportability.” The article explores the microphysics of power relationships shaping detention conditions inside a pre-removal centre showing how in the clash between police attempting to deport migrants and their opposition to deportation, immigration detention turns into a de-facto punishment. While the overlapping of administrative and punitive functions under the framework of immigration law and policies has been extensively analyzed, this research illustrates how it is produced in practice suggesting that the evolution of immigration detention into a deterrence tool is to be considered as the outcome of the failure of the Italian deportation machine rather than a conscious policy choice. Finally, this article provides an opportunity to further explore the relationship between migration control and what Michel Agier has defined as humanitarian government, showing the many paradoxes and contradictions incurred by humanitarian agencies when they are called upon to manage custodial facilities such as immigration detention centres.

Keywords: Immigration detention, Deportation, Ethnography, Humanitarian government, Immigration

Suggested Citation

Campesi, Giuseppe, Hindering the Deportation Machine. An Ethnography of Power and Resistance in Immigration Detention (2015). Punishment and Society, 2015, Forthcoming, Criminal Justice, Borders and Citizenship Research Paper No. 2592638, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2592638

Giuseppe Campesi (Contact Author)

Università degli Studi di Bari “Aldo Moro” (UNIBA) ( email )

Corso Italia 23
Bari, 70123

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