Youth, Race, and Immigration Control in 1960s Britain

Sunday, January 7, 2018: 11:00 AM
Columbia 12 (Washington Hilton)
Radhika Natarajan, Reed College
In 1962, the Commonwealth Immigrants Act brought an end to the unrestricted entry of Commonwealth Citizens to the United Kingdom. Passed in response to racial resentment against migrants from the decolonizing empire, the Act introduced work vouchers and quotas for migration and also categorized who could and could not enter the country for family reasons. While Randall Hansen claims that from 1962 until 1965, the dependent children of Commonwealth Citizens were “freely admitted” under this “liberal” policy, the enforcement of the 16-year old cut off revealed that family reunification was anything but assured to racialized young people.

In this paper, I will examine Home Office surveillance of young West Indians and South Asians who traveled to Britain to be reunited with their families. Officials drew on racial discourses to discount these young people’s claims to entry to the United Kingdom by calling into question both their family connections and their age. In the case of both Afro-Caribbeans and South Asians, officials dismissed the sincerity of family ties, particularly in regard to the broad kinship networks that both sets of migrants depended upon. Officials also sought to develop examination protocols of bones and other body features that would definitively prove the age of young migrants, to prevent “adults” from cheating their way into the country. These discussions depended upon the idea that black and brown bodies matured at different rates than white bodies, and therefore foolproof tests needed to be developed to assist immigration officials who might be taken in. Thus, the border was an important site for the production of categories of family and youth, both of which were racialized. This process helped to create black and brown youth as a distinct and problematic category for a nation re-racialized as white in the years of its decolonization from empire.

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