Moralizing deportations: how police enforcement and civil-society initiatives shape the deportation field in Spain
This project looks at the attempts of different actors in the Spanish deportation field to morally justify their roles, practices and views. Detention and deportation are contested politically and within the larger public debate. The issue regularly makes it to the headlines of major newspapers and is picked up in documentaries, talk shows and at street manifestations. There are adamant supporters of uncompromising deportation policies, and militant social movements that widely fight detention centers and police attempts to arrest and deport illegalized noncitizens.
One of the outcomes of a polarized and heated deportation field is that the actors involved in it are quite adamant about their moral grounds and positions. This project traces the different manners in which police agents, bureaucrats, NGO workers and activists articulate their views and justify their practices and modes of engagement with the field.
Ethnographic material for the project has been collected via direct observations, long talks, interviews, discussions and participation in some critical events with different actors at the Police Brigade for Foreign Affairs and Borders, detention centers, NGO offices and gatherings of activists. It also benefited from access to data about the work of the Spanish courts, the State Prosecutor and lawyers.
The analytical attempt of the project is to ground morality in the everyday-ness of actors’ specific involvement in a contested field. It tries to move beyond claimed moral positions and interrogate actual differences between the views and practices, for example, of police agents and NGO workers.
In the past decade Spain has deported more than 100.000 noncitizens. Nevertheless, the annual number of deportees has been declining in recent years. This has certainly to do with the economic crisis in Spain that has taken its toll on the labor market, and with it the employment opportunities for documented as well as undocumented migrants. Consequently, the flow of migrants to Spain has diminished, and many noncitizens whose residency permit was dependent on having a stable employment contract lost their legal status and eventually decided to leave the country.
Spain has traditionally been an emigration country during most of the 20th century. However, since 1980s, Spain has experienced an economic boom and consequently it became a desired destination to both skilled and unskilled labourers, documented and undocumented migrants, recognized and “failed” asylum seekers. Spain’s geographical proximity to Africa and colonial ties to Latin America have expedited mobility of people from countries in these two continents towards its roaring construction sector, flourishing agricultural production, and burgeoning service economies in metropolitan areas of Madrid, Barcelona and other major cities.
Since the late 1990s, Spain has begun to concertedly focus institutional attention on the phenomenon of undocumented migration. New laws have been legislated to deal with “illegal” foreigners, and a massive infrastructure has been established to process their detention and deportation.
Within a few years, Spain has become the major deporting state in Europe, with tens of thousands of so-called “repatriations” per year. In the terminology of the Spanish state, “repatriations” include 4 categories:
- Refusal of entry at official entry terminals (maritime ports, airport, etc.);
- Readmission to third countries
- Return of people who attempt to cross into Spain not via official entry ports;
- Expulsions in line with the Law for Foreigners.
The following table illustrated the major “repatriation” tendencies in Spain in recent years:
Source: Ministry of Interior, “Fight against irregular migration” 2008-2015
In 2008 the Spanish state has introduced a new terminology – qualified expulsions – to categorize the deportation of foreigners with an irregular status who are implicated in criminal activity. The idea was allegedly to move away from simply deporting foreigners who lack an administrative legal status, and instead to focus on those among them who are committing crimes and disturbing public order.