Many migration policies in Western democracies can be categorised as what Matthew J. Gibney calls a ‘partialist’ approach to migration. Drawing from communitarian, conservative, and constitutionalist realist political theories, a partialist approach prioritises the interests and values of citizens and the community over the needs of non-citizens. Stepping outside the normative debate, this paper examines the political implications of a partialist approach to migration policies. The paper argues that it is possible for such policies to be inconsistent with liberal democratic processes of government. Specifically, there is a risk that partialist ideas can be used to justify policies that set aside legal and administrative checks and balances in favour of executive control over migration policies. This is evident in the Australian policy of deportation of long-term permanent residents on character grounds. The paper argues that partialist ideas have been used to justify a high level of executive control over deportations. Executive control is achieved in three ways: broad powers of ministerial discretion; a mechanical bureaucracy, and the use of immigration detention. The cumulative effect means that deportation policy is implemented without the checks and balances fundamental to ensuring limits to executive power. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.