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  • Writer's pictureSonora English

Academic Highlights: Migration in Europe

De Genova (2002) Migrant “Illegality” and deportability in everyday life

While our academic highlights section usually spotlights recent articles, the insights in De Genova’s 2002 article seemed pertinent to include at the beginning of a four-part series on migration. Although De Genova’s focus is primarily on the USA, his analysis is relevant across diverse contexts as it focuses on the framing and discourses that surround migration, rather than specific events.

In this review article, De Genova draws on a rich body of literature that foregrounds the everyday lives of undocumented migrants and interrogates the legal structures that are imposed upon them. De Genova makes three key points, firstly that the so-called ‘illegality’ of particular groups of migrants is not a natural fact. Instead, illegality is produced by legal structures. The legal structures that produce migrant illegality are taken for granted and naturalised. This has two key effects. To start with, it creates the assumption that such legal structures have always existed when this is not the case. For example, in the US, apprehension and deportation by the Border Patrol began in the 1920s, and in Japan migrant ‘illegality’ was not an object of law until the 1990s. Secondly, the naturalisation of these legal structures allows them to become invisible, obscuring them from widespread critique. This directly contrasts with the hyper-visibility created around ‘illegal’ migration, through which migrants are scapegoated.

By denaturalising migrant ‘illegality’, De Genova then demonstrates that the creation of illegality is productive; it serves a purpose. By creating a legal category of people whose very existence in a place is deemed ‘illegal’, such legal structures create an easily disciplinable workforce. This dehumanises ‘illegal’ migrants, reducing them only to the value of their labour. De Genova’s article is concentrated on the US, where the economy is dependent on the labour of so-called ‘illegal’ im/migrants from Mexico and Central America. He thus also discusses the racialisation of Latinos in the US, and the tendency that this creates to equate all Latinos, regardless of residency status or citizenship, with migrants.

De Genova’s third point is on the spectacle of the border. He discusses that discourses around migration, especially in the US, focus on the border as the site where immigration control occurs and as a means to present migration as a crisis. In fact, migration control is much more pervasive than this, and deeply impacts the everyday lives of people who migrate by creating chronic vulnerability to deportation.

This article is rich with theory and encourages readers to critically evaluate their understandings and assumptions of migration. It may now be twenty years old, but it still provides valuable perspective on migration events and discourses occurring in the present day.

Griffiths and Yeo (2021) The UK’s hostile Environment: Deputising immigration control

In this paper, Griffiths and Yeo (2021) provide a robust overview of the UK’s hostile environment, tracing its origins, penetration into public and private life, and its detrimental impacts for migrants, minoritised groups and society as a whole. In recent years, the term ‘hostile environment’ has expanded to broadly encompass marginalising, punitive and criminalising policies towards migrants. However, the authors argue that the hostile environment is a much more specific and significant policy approach, defined by the deputistion of immigration control to third parties. Under such policies, public servants, police officers, private companies, doctors, and ‘ordinary people’ are obliged to check people’s immigration status, such that the UK’s borders pervade day-to-day life.

While then Home Secretary Theresa May popularised the termthrough announcing in 2012 that she intended to create a hostile environment for immigrants, Griffiths and Yeo trace the beginnings of this approach to immigration control back to Blair’s New Labour. The 1997-2010 Labour government introduced a suite of immigration policies that, according to the authors, were direct precursors to the current hostile environment. The deputisation of immigration control has since expanded pervasively. Griffiths and Yeo outline the diverse legislation and punitive measures that now compel employers, banks, landlords, schools, the DVLA, marriage registrars, the police, healthcare workers and homelessness services to enforce the UK’s immigration regime.

Griffiths and Yeo go on to discuss that, despite the expansive enforcement of immigration control through the hostile environment, these policies have not actually impacted irregular migration to the UK. The hostile environment does, however, have massive human impacts for irregular migrants, forcing them into situations hyper-vulnerability. Irregular migrants are not the only ones impacted by these policies. They negatively impact society as a whole by encouraging racism and xenophobia and have particularly dire impacts for working class and minority ethnic groups.

The widespread and unintended impacts of the hostile environment policy were exemplified in the Windrush scandal, which saw legal and long-term residents and citizens of the UK denied healthcare and pensions, forced into homelessness and unemployment, and even deported to counties in the Caribbean that many had not visited since childhood. While the hostile environment has receded from UK headlines since the Windrush scandal, this suite of policies continues to pervade public life in Britain, making this a timely and important article.

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