In this episode we interview Maya Goodfellow, author of ‘Hostile Environments: How Immigrants became Scapegoats’ for the first part of our series on about the racialization of immigration. In this enlightening and extremely topical episode, we discuss security discourses of the ‘scary’ migrant, racial capitalism and the racialization of citizenship. 

The word ‘immigrant’ carries all kinds of ideas in its three syllables. It’s weighed down by all the meanings it’s been given. You know the kinds of things I’m talking about: ‘low-skilled’, ‘high-skilled’, ‘contributor’, ‘drain’, ‘cockroach’ or just, plainly put, simply ‘a concern’. Not all of these terms are necessarily negative, but each of them is impersonal, clinical and cold.’

Maya Goodfellow 

The episode starts off by questioning the very definition of ‘the immigrant’. The obsession with the topic of migration – the term is widely used throughout the media and politics – seems not to be deterred by the fact that most people do not know its exact meaning. Dating back to the 1951 UN Refugee convention, the definition of a migrant as ‘a person who moves to a country other than that of his or her usual residence for a period of at least a year’ carries with it its own subtleties. Maya points out that by changing the time-frame that determines when one is considered an immigrant, the measurements of migrant numbers change drastically. 

Before delving into some of the contemporary problems of British immigration policy, our panellists are curious to find out more about the historical origin of the debate. In fact, British history and legislation has been deeply entwined with the movement and integration of foreign people for decades. Using examples from the 1905 Aliens Act directed against Jewish refugees, Maya points out how the concerns of people have changed little in the past century, though anti-immigration sentiments are now directed against people from different places and cultures. 

A consideration of the many actors involved in enforcing and debating immigration highlights that counter to popular sentiment, the UK in fact benefits from an incredibly unequal global economy. Maya gives an insight into the role of the Home Office and private corporations, and draws connections to the gross exploitation of people in detention centres.

“We live in a world where it is necessary to remind people that immigrants are not things, not a burden and not the enemy. That they’re human beings.”

Maya Goodfellow 

The episode then turns to a debate about the racialisation of immigration: Why is the racialisation of immigration permitted? How does it tie into our institutional power relations? And why do people buy into this rhetoric of hate? The answers are multiple, some more obvious while others are surprising. Maya links the process of racialisation to British imperialism, the labour movement and questions of nationalism. She outlines the impact of the last Labour government on immigration policies, and points out issues with the British education system. How can it be that a pupil can go through the entire education system without touching on British imperialism? The episode reveals how deeply the racialisation of ‘the other’ is entwined within British institutions – and what needs to be changed. This leads onto a more positive note; Maya tells us about the people, organisations and movements that she has met throughout her research, which have shown empathy and compassion with immigrants – and there are many of them!

“Choosing to do a project on the Indian independence movement at A-levels history was the only time I can really remember in my education that I learned about something that reflected my lived experience in any kind of way” 

Maya Goodfellow 

Find ‘Hostile Environments’

  • On Verso –
  • Or in your local bookshop! 

Links for further information: 

  • Maya Goodfellow’s ‘Hostile Environments’ (or find it at your local booskhop
  • Maya Goodfellow on the current border regime –
  • more to follow 

Mentioned in this episode: 

  • UN definitions of a migrant –
  • The 1905 Aliens Act –
  • BBC documentary on immigrant nurses in the NHS –
  • Docts not cops –