Attempts by governments to control unwanted border crossings are a defining feature of late modernity; but the suppression of cross-border mobility is not new. In pre-industrial England the ‘masterless men’ and ‘valiant beggars’ were subjected to harsh measures designed to curtail their mobility. In this article, we observe that border control intensifies at times of tumultuous structural change when institutions capable of preserving the emerging economic and social order are largely absent. In a globally mobile society, we argue that ‘flawed consumers’ and ‘suspect citizens’ are the most likely to be earmarked for exclusion. This designation links historical conceptions of ‘the other’ with the tropes of race, class and foreignness to underpin contemporary xeno-racism.