We can evaluate the potential for fundamental change in modern territorial norms by studying the evolving governance of international migration. Many policy-makers have sought to limit unwanted migration by adopting new strategies for controlling access to state territory. Some states have increasingly opted for internal controls, involving the exclusion of undocumented migrants from government services and the arrest of undocumented migrants away from the border. Yet, it is uncertain whether policy-makers will be able to implement these new designs. This study develops a sceptical position on state re-territorialisation through an analysis of the South African community enforcement policy. South Africa is a prolific deporter of foreign nationals. However, the study shows that a number of institutional barriers have prevented its policy-makers from switching from border to internal controls. The paper uses these findings to call for greater attention to historically constituted variations in immigration enforcement bureaucracies.