Sans Papiers: The Social and Economic Lives of Undocumented Migrants

Sans Papiers: The Social and Economic Lives of Undocumented Migrants


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780745333908
Publisher: Pluto Press
Publication date: 06/20/2014
Pages: 216
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Alice Bloch is Professor of Sociology at the University of Manchester. She is the co-author of Race, Multiculture and Social Policy (2013) and co-editor of Irregular Migrants (2012).

Nando Sigona is Birmingham Fellow and Lecturer at the University of Birmingham. He is co-author of No Way Out, No Way In (2012) and Associate Editor of Migration Studies.

Roger Zetter is Emeritus Professor of Refugee Studies at the University of Oxford. He is author of Lands of No Return (2012) and co-author of Refugee Community Organisations and Dispersal (2005).

Read an Excerpt


Researching Everyday 'Illegality': An Introduction

On 15 June 2012, standing in the garden of the White House in front of a crowd of journalists, the US President Barack Obama announced that he had signed an executive order to suspend deportations with immediate effect and to grant renewable two-year residence permits to young undocumented migrants brought up in the United States. The executive order benefited undocumented migrants under 30 who arrived in the US before the age of 16, lived in the US continuously for five years, had no criminal record and had graduated from high school or served in the US military. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programme is an interim solution which came at a strategic time in the run-up to the presidential election and after over ten years of unsuccessful attempts by the legislators to find a compromise, firstly on the DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education of Alien Minors) Act and, more recently, on a comprehensive immigration reform. With all its limitations – including the underlining politics of deservingness that excludes a large segment of the undocumented youth population – the measure, in its first year, benefited over 500,000 young migrants, and more will become eligible as the programme operates on a rolling basis. DACA gives undocumented youth an opportunity 'to remain in the country without fear of deportation, allows them to apply for work permits, and increases their opportunities for economic and social incorporation' (Gonzales and Terriquez 2013: 1). To explain his decision to the American people and his voters, Barack Obama then said:

These are young people who study in our schools, they play in our neighborhoods, they're friends with our kids, they pledge allegiance to our flag. They are Americans in their heart, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper.

Other undocumented migrants, however, are met with a much tougher approach. In fact, under the Obama administration, the forced removal of unauthorised residents has reached an unprecedented level: 2 million since Obama took office (Gonzales 2013).

Meanwhile in the United Kingdom, Prime Minister David Cameron, in a speech at the Institute for Government in London in October 2011, announced his intention to crack down on illegal immigration, stating that he 'wants everyone in the country [to help] reclaim our borders', going so far as to urge people to report 'suspected illegal immigrants'. The latter invitation led to thousands of allegations – 28,243 in the third quarter of 2012 alone (Home Affairs Committee 2013: 7) – to the launch of the National Allegations Database, which went live on 30 September 2012, and to a record number of forced and assisted removals. However, in parallel, through the Case Resolution Programme established in 2007 to clear the backlog of pending asylum and non-asylum cases, the UK government has also regularised the position of tens of thousands of unauthorised residents, in particular families with children and young people (Sigona and Hughes 2012; Sigona 2012a).

Moreover, despite the use of forced and voluntary removal increasing significantly over the 2000s in both countries (in the US +110 per cent and in the UK +120 per cent), the stock of undocumented migrants was affected only marginally or not at all. Over the same period the population of undocumented migrants in fact grew, which, as Sigona and Hughes argue (2012), indicates that undocumented migrants are more likely to stay for good – or at least for a long time – in the country of residence in a situation of legal precariousness, particularly if they are children or young people. The phenomenon of undocumented migration and undocumented migrants is not going to disappear, making it increasingly important to understand their heterogeneous experiences. This book sets out to fill a gap in the literature by offering an in-depth insight into the everyday lives of young undocumented migrants. The book uncovers, through the voices of these young migrants, the ways in which they exist in a protracted limbo and how, as young people, they are largely unable to develop personally and contribute more broadly to society in the positive and productive ways they imagined and sometimes longed for.

In this introductory chapter we set out the book's aims, highlight the significance of irregular migration by presenting data on the scale of undocumented migration, provide an explanation of the methodological and empirical basis of Chapters 4, 5, 6 and 7, and finish with an outline of the book's contents. Starting with the aim of the book, we offer original insights into the lives of young undocumented migrants living in England about whom little is known. While the focus is on experiences in one country, their experiences echo those of undocumented migrants in other Western democracies and globally. In reality, though, irregular migration – once a phenomenon of the wealthier countries of the global north and west – is now a global issue, with most irregular migration occurring between countries in the developing world (Koser 2005). It is a global issue also because nation-states co-operate at the national, regional and supranational levels to try to control immigration flows, including flows of irregular migrants.

The causes of irregular migration are complex and multi-faceted. Uneven development, economic opportunities, survival migration, social networks, family reunion and exile are all included in the constellation of factors that result in irregular migration or in individuals becoming irregular. Some people are born into irregularity and enter their adult lives occupying this precarious situation; others enter into it as part of a migration project and some fall into it without ever realising it or out of desperation due, for example, to their need to avoid returning to a country where they fear persecution. Most irregular migrants initially enter countries legally (e.g. on visitor or student visas) and then overstay their visas or breach their conditions on entry (Koser 2005). Whatever the routes to irregularity, being sans papiers (without papers), as this book will demonstrate, permeates all aspects of migrants' lives, significantly reduces their access to economic and social opportunities, and renders individuals vulnerable to different forms of exploitation, exclusion and marginalisation.

Within the academic literature, irregular migration and irregular migrants occupy spaces in a number of disciplines, including sociology, geography, politics, social policy, anthropology and law. The literature that emerged from North America in the 1970s focused mainly on migration from Mexico to the US and identified 'structural determinants' (Portes 1978: 477) as precipitating irregular migration – both the sending and the receiving countries benefiting from it; it also stressed the paradoxical impact of immigration control and enforcement practices which, instead of reducing in-flows, produce enforced immobility and trap unauthorised migrants in the country of residence (Massey and Espinosa 1997; see also Carling 2002). Migrant-receiving countries benefit from cheap and flexible labour while migrant-sending countries benefit from the partial alleviation of social and economic uncertainty and inequality (see Bloch and Chimienti 2011; Portes 1978). As time has progressed, there is a greater diversity in terms of who irregular migrants are and their routes to undocumentedness. Moreover, migration, with or without papers, has also become a rite of passage and/or an adventure not structurally but, instead, socially determined and perpetuated by migrant chains and new geographies of migration (Bloch, Sigona and Zetter 2011; Chavez 1992; Hagan 2008; Koser and Pinkerton 2002).

The complexity of motivations, causes and consequences results in tranches of literature in different academic disciplines with multiple orientations (Ambrosini 2013; Bloch and Chimienti 2011; Bosniak 2006; Joppke 2010; Shackar 2009). However, in spite of a burgeoning of literature in this area in the last few decades, little is known about the specific case of young adults as undocumented migrants. Instead, research has focused on children, unaccompanied minors and the 1.5 and second generations, or merges undocumented migrants into one group, rather than differentiating by age. Age is important in terms of aspirations, ambitions, family formation, education, training and careers. This book sets out to address this gap in knowledge by examining, in detail, the experiences of young people aged 18–31 who are living as undocumented migrants. Throughout the book, we contextualise people's experiences and the ways in which they frame these experiences, through the lens of young adulthood.

The Scale of Undocumented Migration: Counting the Uncountable

Posing the dilemma of 'counting the uncountable', Vollmer (2008) captures many of the contradictions about who the undocumented are and thus how many there are. Inevitably, given the complexity of immigration categories and of residence and work statuses, evidence on the numbers of undocumented migrants is unreliable and contradictory (McKenzie and Siegel 2013). The UK government adopted a standardised system of measurement (Woodbridge 2005), but this is problematic not only because of the categories used, but also because it relies on data sources which are proxies for immigration status. By definition, accurate data cannot exist for a hidden population, the more so for undocumented young migrants for whom no data have been found. Only Sigona and Hughes (2012) have attempted to disaggregate by age; they have offered an estimate of 120,000 irregular migrants aged under 19 living in the UK, of whom 60,000–65,000 were UK-born. However, we know nothing about the numeric or demographic profiles of the young people aged 18–31 who are the subject of this book. In this section we build a picture of the numbers of undocumented migrants, both in the UK and globally, and critique the methodologies used for estimating these numbers.

In her multi-national survey of unauthorised migrants, Levinson (2005: 28) cites Home Office data on enforcement statistics as a proxy for undocumented/unauthorised migrants. The estimate given is 123,300 irregular migrants in 2002, an increase from the 1996 statistic of 56,000. However this figure is certainly a very large undercount, since it includes over 50,000 persons who were refused entry at port and removed, but does not include overstayers, other irregular categories or those who are undetected. Levinson cites International Organization for Migration (2003) estimates of 'anywhere up to 1 million' in the UK (2005: 28).

The Home Office, under political pressure to respond to the strident anti-immigration lobby, developed a complex methodology to estimate the undocumented migrant population. Based on the study by Woodbridge (2005) for the Home Office and the Office of National Statistics, it was estimated that the unauthorised (note that this is not necessarily the same as being undocumented) population in 2001 lay between 310,000 and 570,000, with a central estimate of 430,000 (Woodbridge 2005; see also Vollmer 2008). The methodology used was problematic in several respects. First it was based on Census rather than on immigration data. Secondly, it did not include children born in the UK to irregular migrant couples. Thirdly the Census is cross-sectional and therefore only records the stock of residents/migrants at a single point in time. Finally, departures are not recorded and so the data fail to capture the flows and fluidity of migration, which have been particularly significant given the intensity of migration to and from the UK in recent years.

In addition to the figure of 430,000 given as a central estimate (Woodbridge 2005), there were, at that time, 175,000 quasi-legal migrants whose right to remain depended on the future determination of their asylum status, and might account for some 50,000 to 80,000 additional unauthorised migrants, as well as the category of illegal entrants (other than asylum-seekers). Conversely, as a later study pointed out (Gordon et al. 2009), statistics for the number of asylum-seekers present in the UK in 2001 would account for 286,000 failed asylum-seekers in the country, almost two-thirds of the total central estimate offered by Woodbridge (2005).

Using a different methodology, the study by Gordon et al. (2009) reviewed and updated the Home Office figure, adding an estimate of UK-born children of irregular migrants. This study produced a central estimate of 618,000 and a range of between 417,000 and 863,000 undocumented migrants at the end of 2007, of whom the largest single category are thought to be visa overstayers. We can conclude that the numbers are quite sizeable, although the tightening of border controls and visa requirements, together with the increasing level of removal in recent years – some 93,500 from 2008–13 and 135,000 voluntary departures over the same period – suggest that numbers may not necessarily be increasing.

Estimates also exist about the numbers of undocumented migrants at the global level. The International Organization for Migration (2010) estimated in 2010 that, of the 214 million international migrants in the world, 10 to 15 per cent (21.4–32.1 million) were in an irregular situation. However, calculations of these global flows of irregular migration vary widely. The Council of Europe estimated in 2002 that 30 million people crossed international borders without authorisation every year. By contrast, a 2004 estimate by the International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD) put the flow of irregular migrants at between 2 and 4.5 million every year; this is equivalent to between one third and one half of the world's 6 to 9 million annual migrants (cited in Koser 2005). Within Europe, the Clandestino Project's (2009) findings suggest a decline in the numbers of irregular migrants during the first decade of the 2000s. The reasons for the decline are threefold: firstly, EU enlargement by default regularised some Eastern European migrants who had been living without status; secondly, national regularisation programmes again legitimised many migrants; and, thirdly, increased international policing and co-operation halted some unauthorised flows (Baldwin-Edwards and Kraler 2009; Kraler and Rogoz 2011; Triandafyllidou 2010). By 2008, estimates of the numbers of undocumented migrants for 27 European countries were between 1.9 and 3.8 million, which represented between 0.39 and 0.77 per cent of the total population (Clandestino Project 2009).

The Clandestino Project (2009) highlights the emphasis placed on unauthorised and/or clandestine entrants within policy and public discussions of irregular immigration flows – that is, migrants crossing borders without authorisation. There are, in fact, at least three different types of flow: geographic, demographic and status-related. Geographic flows are those that dominate the public and political arena – people moving across sea or land borders without authorisation. However, they also include outflows of irregular migrants leaving countries, a trend on which almost no data exist. Demographic flows include the birth and death of those with an irregular residence status. Status-related flows indicate the movement between legal and irregular status. However, the Clandestino Project report also notes that the flow from irregular to regular status has been more significant in the EU than the opposite flow (regular to irregular) largely due to the regularisation effect of enlargement (2009: 6–7). In Chapter 2, we provide a detailed overview of the legal and policy frameworks in operation and of the focus of policy-makers on curtailing unauthorised entrants through in-country sanctions that include high-profile raids and deportations.

The data suggest that large variations in the methodologies used are all problematic. Apart from the speculative nature of these estimates, a key point to be stressed is that they refer to the total undocumented migrant population, with the exception of Sigona and Hughes (2012), not to the number of undocumented young migrants (however defined) who are the subject of our study.

Methods and Methodology

The book draws on data from 75 in-depth interviews and testimonies with young people (aged 18–31) living irregularly – that is, without any legal rights to reside in the UK at the time of their interview. Interviews were carried out with migrants from China, Brazil, Ukraine and Zimbabwe, and with Kurds from Turkey. The five countries were selected because they provided variations of experience based on colonial linkages (Zimbabwe); migration from a discriminated-against minority (Kurds from Turkey); long migration histories and more-established community organisation in the host setting (China, Zimbabwe, Turkey) and new migrations – consequently with fewer community-based activities and networks (Brazil and Ukraine). Moreover, a variety of motives for migration were evident alongside the different routes and strategies for coming into the UK, including seeking asylum, the use of visas, using forged documents and clandestine entry.


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Copyright © 2014 Alice Bloch, Nando Sigona and Roger Zetter.
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Table of Contents

List of Tables
List of Figures
1 Researching Everyday ‘Illegality’: An Introduction
2 Migration Dynamics, Irregular Migration and Governing Irregularity
3 Migrant Agency, Youth and Legal Status
4 Visibility and Invisibility: Arrival, Settlement and Socialisation Into Irregularity
5 Legal Status and the Labour Market
6 Fragile Communities: Social Networks and Geographies of Undocumentedness
7 Intersecting Youth and Legal Status
8 Conclusion

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