Seeing illegal immigrants: state monitoring and political rationality

Elisabeth Badenhoop

Irregular immigration in Europe has attracted significant political attention recently, largely focused on unauthorized entry via sea borders. But just as striking are the omissions implied by this focus: the lack of codified knowledge about, or even “strategic ignorance” of, unauthorized foreign nationals already resident in European countries. Few states estimate stocks of “illegal” residents in their territory. Governments tend to be just as reticent about collecting and publishing data on apprehensions or removals of undocumented immigrants. And there is a dearth of analysis on the economic and social effects of illegal residence and employment. This project examines how states “see” irregular immigrants, addressing two sets of questions. First, which forms of illegality do states monitor, and which are left unscrutinized? By identifying and critically examining the techniques and technologies public authorities use to produce knowledge about the kinds of unauthorized residents they choose to monitor, this study contributes to migration, security and surveillance studies. Second, what do monitoring choices and practices tell us about the type of political rationality informing state monitoring practices? By analyzing how states attempt to “see” illegal immigrants this project aims to reconstruct the logics underpinning decision-making on monitoring and thereby also makes a broader contribution to theories of the state and political agency. Based on an innovative dataset of archival records and expert interviews conducted in collaboration with colleagues at the University of Edinburgh, this study reconstructs state monitoring of irregular migrants in Germany, France and the UK from the 1960s/70s to the 1990s/2000s.

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