Lisa Marie Borrelli
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‘Do you understand? Yes, you understand.’
Bureaucratic translations of difference during deportation talks in Switzerland
in Policing race, ethnicity and culture
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The migration and deportation regime is characterised by uneven power relations between state actors and non-citizens – in this context, those with precarious legal status. While both sides possess a certain range of agency, which is constantly challenged and contested, non-citizens with precarious legal status rely not only on information dispersed within various networks, but also on the transmission of information by street-level bureaucrats (SLBs). Based on this information, non-citizens can contest bureaucratic decisions and organise their own actions and reactions. Moments of porous or lacking information that reduce knowledge and action potential thus become crucial, because they inhibit individuals from making ‘informed decisions’. In this contribution, I examine ‘deportation talks’ that happen prior to deportation procedures through the lens of ‘translation’ and critically analyse how deportation orders and dates are communicated by SLBs, how information is shaped by SLBs and how power asymmetries come into being. The chapter develops three modes of translation that could be found in the collected data and argues that these shape everyday migrant–bureaucrat encounters and affect negotiations between officers and migrant individuals concerning their respective deportation. These three modes of translation lead to different stages of non-citizens being ‘lost in translation’ and portray the absurdity and abundance of these deportation meetings, in which more confusion is created than knowledge produced. The presented data derives from participant observation in a Swiss cantonal police unit and two Swiss migration offices, all in charge of planning (and implementing) deportation orders.

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Policing race, ethnicity and culture

Ethnographic perspectives across Europe


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