Seeing illegal immigrants: state monitoring and political rationality

Elisabeth Badenhoop

- completed -

Irregular immigration in Europe has attracted significant political attention recently, largely focused on unauthorized entry via sea borders. Just as striking, however, 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. In addition, 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 that public authorities utilize to produce knowledge about the kinds of unauthorized residents that 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. This study reconstructs state monitoring of irregular migrants in Germany, France, and the UK from the 1960s/70s to the 1990s/2000s. Its major findings have recently appeared in a co-authored article in Governance.

Representative publication:

Boswell, C., & Badenhoop, E. (2020). “What isn't in the files, isn't in the world”: Understanding state ignorance of irregular migration in Germany and the United Kingdom. Governance, 1-18. doi:10.1111/gove.12499.

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