Academic journal article Social Justice

Policing the Virtual Border: Punitive Preemption in Australian Offshore Migration Control

Academic journal article Social Justice

Policing the Virtual Border: Punitive Preemption in Australian Offshore Migration Control

Article excerpt

THE POLICING OF GLOBAL MOBILITY OCCUPIES A PIVOTAL SPACE AT THE INTERSECTION of numerous global trends. The imperative to cross borders, whether "voluntary," "forced," or somewhere in between, is emblematic of changes associated with an increasingly ungoverned global economy, and an unstable and grossly unequal global order. At the same time, as if to compensate for their capitulation to transnational corporate power, neoliberal governments have adopted a defensive political nationalism and sought to reassert their sovereignty through strict, yet highly selective, border controls (Sassen, 1996). This discussion will analyze border control measures that extend Australia's border outwards to preempt the arrival of asylum-seekers and other illegalized travelers. Rather than attempt a systematic survey, I concentrate on three examples: interceptions of "inadequately documented passengers" by overseas liaison officers in countries of transit; military interdiction of "suspected unlawful non-citizens" at sea; and the manipulation of the location of borders in time and space to preempt the arrival of "offshore entry persons."

Punitive Preemption in Australian Migration Policing

The emphasis on preemption in border control reflects a more general trend toward instrumental forms of governance that focus attention less on the past and more on the future (Johnston and Shearing, 2003). In the early 1990s, Feeley and Simon (1992, 1994) proposed that a "new penology" concerned with the prevention of aggregate risk was overtaking the "old penology" with its focus on the punishment and deterrence of rational individuals. This new actuarial mentality called for surveillance and preventative measures to be targeted at risky groups identified by statistically derived profiles, coupled with the use of prison to incapacitate, rather than to reform or deter. "Its objects are to identify high-risk offenders and to maintain long-term control over them while investing in shorter-term and less intrusive control and surveillance over lower risk offenders" (Feeley and Simon, 1994: 175). Most controversial among the claims of the new penology was the idea that the preoccupation with risk and the rejection of penal welfarism had resulted in the abandonment in the United States of a supposedly irredeemable, mostly Black and Hispanic "underclass" who were subject to mass incarceration.

At the same time, it is clear that actuarial thinking has not entirely superseded the old penology. Advocates of the "new punitiveness" note the continuing influence of popular punitivism and the resurgent neoclassicism, which is manifest in the law-and-order agenda. For example, David Garland (1996: 445) has proposed that "the most visible and striking phenomenon of recent penal policy in Britain and the USA is the punitiveness which has come to characterize prominent aspects of government policy and political rhetoric." Punitive strategies are said to coexist with new, pragmatic rationalities that are adaptations to the reality of persistently high crime rates, giving crime control a "dualistic, ambivalent, and often contradictory" character. Risk, however, takes a back seat to popular punitivism, in Garland's view, as the main driver of crime control. There has been widespread debate concerning Garland's historical method, disregard of neoliberal politics, lack of attention to material conditions at local and global levels, and his downplaying of restorative justice and other sites of resistance to punitive mentalities (see Matthews, 2002; O'Malley, 2002; Braithwaite, 2003; Feeley, 2003; Pratt et al., 2005). The contours of this debate need not be examined here. The relevant point is Garland's claim that the political/sovereign/punitive and the administrative/governmental/managerial arms of the state exist in an antagonistic relationship:

   The exercise of sovereign penal power tends to interrupt the
   operation of governmental strategies, often for short-term
   political purposes. … 
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