Immigration Control, Citizenship, the Interplay of Sovereignty and the Vicissitudes of the Hostile Environment
As a matter of well-established international law and subject to its treaty obligations, a State has the right to control the entry of non-nationals into its territory which expressed the fact that a fundamental principle of State sovereignty is that States enjoy the discretion over the admission, residence and expulsion of non-nationals in their territorial jurisdiction. This, over a given period affected the plight of non-nationals as the pre-twentieth-century developments illuminated the idea that ‘the alien was literally a non-person’. Even though this changed substantially in the middle ages due principally to Christianity being the prevalent religion in the West that emphasized the inherent dignity and equality before God of all human beings, hitherto changing the fact that the alien was no more a non-person, the story has only changed in part. This is particularly so as immigration control has a strong reliance on spectacle where the migration regime must be perceived as competent and for the State to act powerfully in the defense of its borders.
However, international human rights obligations require States to comply with their treaty obligations regarding the treatment of aliens in their territory. The underlying matter is that international legal regime and its attendant institutions presume that while individual States can maintain sovereignty over its internal affairs, they are nonetheless accountable to upholding certain principles and standards in the exercise of sovereignty which calls for a reconciliation of sovereignty with universality of human rights law. But with the resurgence of nationalism and far right ideologies across jurisdictions in Europe and the United States, the hostile environment has emerged which challenges the relevance and efficacy of the position of international human rights law in the exercise of sovereignty as it concerns immigration.
In the United Kingdom, for instance, the ‘hostile environment’ came into the lexicon of immigration law by the then British Prime Minister Theresa May, who as Home Secretary in 2012, brought into fruition, an ostensibly cruel and evidently repulsive approach towards immigration that aimed at making life difficult for irregular migrants in the UK. This, through the instrumentality of the law (Immigration Acts of 2014 & 2016), created misery for irregular migrants by a collegiate denial of their basic needs such as housing, employment, education, banking and healthcare, just to mention but a few. The idea is simply to frustrate irregular migrants to leave the United Kingdom or be detained and expelled if encountered by law enforcement agencies. The reality then is that while citizens enjoy a wide range of human rights, irregular migrants are arguably dehumanized and pilloried, and their fundamental rights trampled, on the skewed basis of nationality.
The papers in this special issue will aim to examine the rights of migrants and irregular migrants alike in the somewhat re-emergence of right-wing ideologies and nationalism within the contours of sovereignty and international human rights law. The discussion will be centered around nationalism, sovereignty and immigration control alongside the framework of international human rights as it concerns the issue of inclusion and exclusion.