Spells of belonging

A response to Anna Tuckett

in Journal of Legal Anthropology
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  • 1 Ghent University susannah.crockford@ugent.be
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Anna Tuckett’s piece on the paper trails left, created and curated by migrant streams crossing Europe raises questions on how social personhood is legally affirmed or undermined by legal paperwork. As is now a well aired fact, those UK citizens affected by the ‘hostile environment’ instituted by the British Home Office (HO) from 2012 onwards were disproportionately black and descended from former Caribbean colonies (Olusoga 2019). I consider my experience relating to immigration practices and assumptions to indicate aspects of this environment in the making. In 2004, I spent six months working for the civil service in the UK as a blandly labelled ‘presenting officer’. A presenting officer presented the Home Secretary’s case for refusing immigration and asylum claims that the applicant had appealed. In such cases, it was common strategy to draw attention to the lack of consistency, in terms of both narrative and between a person and their papers. Narrative consistency was required: the same story had to be told to the case officer on presenting a claim and in the courtroom to the adjudicator and in any and every opportunity to retell the tale the applicant had. Any inconsistency was taken as evidence of deceit. A person had to be able to document their birth, entries and exits to the UK, schooling, workplaces, income and family relationships. The requirements of consistency reified relationships that had documentary existence over those that did not. Lack of documents undermined a person’s ability to make their case.

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