Deportation regimes mobilise coercive state powers, but also entail extensive paperwork, the latter of which remains underexplored in deportation studies. Building on ethnographic fieldwork in border police units and a migration-related detention centre in Sweden, this article explores how bureaucratic practices of detecting, detaining and ultimately deporting people whose presence has been illegalised are enforced and legitimated through the use of paperwork. Paperwork, we argue, becomes the ‘signature of the state’ that enables state agencies to assert themselves as ‘rational’ actors, even when their own practices are ridden by dilemmas, inconsistency and sometimes arbitrariness. We show how the same documents that are meant to ensure fairness and accountability in bureaucratic processes may render state actions even more unreadable, and further serve to rationalise and legitimise intrusive, violent and discriminatory state actions. The article thus highlights the importance of considering the often-tedious paperwork as essential to the operation of coercive state powers, such as the detainment and deportation of illegalised persons.
Legitimating state violence in the Swedish deportation regime
Lisa Marie Borrelli and Annika Lindberg
Examining the regulatory effects of documentary practices in a refugee settlement
Documents play an important role in the lives of refugees. However, little is known about the extent to which documents regulate the everyday lives of refugees and the anxieties of obtaining relevant paperwork for refugees seeking resettlement in the Global North. Although their lives are regulated by paperwork, refugees also use documents strategically to legitimise various claims and entitlements. This article shows how refugees interface with the administrative processes that seek to regulate their stay. Therefore, documentary practices become important tools through which processes and objectives of migration governance can be examined. This article seeks to contribute further insights on how the deployment of documents entrenches discourses of vulnerability, the role that paper regimes play in (re)producing processes of exclusion through administrative processes in humanitarian aid contexts and the revelations of documentary practices or paper regimes about those who govern and those who are governed by these practices.
The coupling of welfare benefits and migration control in Switzerland
This article scrutinises case files concerning the revocation of stay permits in Switzerland due to the receipt of social assistance. Through in-depth exploration of case files and Federal Supreme Court judgements, it provides insights into the increasing coupling of migration control and welfare instruments. The article does so by investigating one specific type of paperwork: ‘menaces of warnings of the revocation order due to the dependency on social assistance’. The article argues bureaucratic practices and the paperwork they produce must be investigated for their effects on foreign nationals and for the (re)production of politics of belonging and the ‘anti-citizen’. By individualising the reason for receiving social assistance, the analysed paperwork simultaneously aims at disciplining recipients of social assistance and legitimises exclusion by constructing ‘unteachability’ through ‘unsuccessful’ self-disciplining.
Governing migration through paperwork
Lisa Marie Borrelli and Sophie Andreetta
In order to better understand migration governance and the concrete, daily practices of civil servants tasked to enforce state laws and policies, this special issue focuses on the core artefact of bureaucratic work: documents, in their diverse manifestations, including certificates, letters, reports, case files, decisions, internal guidelines and judgements. Based on ethnographic studies in various contexts, we show how civil servants produce statehood, restrict migrants’ movements, and engage with migrants’ strategies to make themselves legible. State actors simultaneously limit access to legal statutes and benefits, question their own practices, and use their discretion in order to help themselves as well as migrant individuals. We also highlight organisational and professional differences in the way civil servants deal with migrants, relate to the state and its policies and define their obligations towards both, migrants and the state. This special issue therefore contributes to the study of the state as documentary practice and highlights the role of paperwork as serious practice of migration control.
Repatriation as Ceremony
of paperwork to accompany him back to the United States. Transit in this case was complicated by the fact that the claimants wanted to carry their ancestor home on board the plane, rather than in the hold, on an international flight. All international
Migration, documents and bureaucracy
Stories of those who were victims of the Windrush scandal are characterised by tales of long-lost documents and urgent quests to procure paperwork – maternity certificates, payslips, dental records, school reports – that would attest to a lifetime spent in the United Kingdom. The so-called Windrush generation came to need this paperwork because, although unbeknown to most, the 1971 Immigration Act demanded that from 1973, all migrants must document their ‘legal’ presence in the UK. It was, however, only from 2014 – because of changes in legislation – that now retirement-age Commonwealth citizens, most of whom had migrated to the United Kingdom as children, found themselves facing deportation back to countries that many had not visited for decades (for a historical account of the legislation and politics that led to the Windrush scandal, see Olusoga 2019). The 2014 Immigration Act deleted a key clause of the 1999 legislation that had provided long-standing Commonwealth residents with protection from enforced removal (Taylor 2018). Some of those affected by this updated legislation report that they believed themselves to be legitimate citizens of the British state and therefore did not need to prove their right to be resident through such documentation (for case studies, see Gentleman 2019). In this case, as well as in common-sense thought more generally, documents and paperwork are understood to hold the ‘truth’. Uncover it and their holder’s rightful status will be triumphantly revealed. As such, documents are imagined to act as unambiguous mechanisms of inclusion, their absence therefore denoting the exact opposite.
Anthropology, bureaucracy and paperwork
This postface links the contributions to this special issue to wider concerns in the anthropology of bureaucracy and the history of this disciplinary subfield. Anthropologists focus on documentary practices: how documents are produced, how they are being used (not always in the sense originally given to them by the producers), how they might be ‘brokered’ and how they are being contested – mostly by the production of other documents. The postface points to the epistemological implications of an anthropology of bureaucracy, under the term of ‘complicit positioning’, and argues for acknowledging the double face of bureaucracy and paperwork, as a form of domination and oppression, as well as of protection and liberation, and all the ambivalences this dialectic entails.
Ethnographic perspectives on law at work and in the making
This article makes a conceptual and methodological argument for ethnographically studying a certain type of paperwork in immigration bureaucracies, namely internal administrative guidelines. Much ethnographic research has focused on case files, application forms, identity documents and judicial decisions attempting to shed light on bureaucrats’ discretionary power and migrants’ strategies of navigating immigration laws. This article shifts attention from bureaucrats’ discretionary practices to their efforts to standardise and codify their own practices. The administrative guidelines of the Foreigners’ Registration Office of Berlin and the visa guidelines of the Federal Foreign Office of Germany are examined as legal documents that are produced in a web of textually grounded legal meanings, as well as in a meshwork of social and political relations and in turn reconfigure both social relations and legal meanings. Contextualised in such a way, these administrative guidelines shed light not only on ‘immigration law at work’ but also on ‘immigration law in the making’.
A response to Anna Tuckett
Anna Tuckett’s piece on the paper trails left, created and curated by migrant streams crossing Europe raises questions on how social personhood is legally affirmed or undermined by legal paperwork. As is now a well aired fact, those UK citizens affected by the ‘hostile environment’ instituted by the British Home Office (HO) from 2012 onwards were disproportionately black and descended from former Caribbean colonies (Olusoga 2019). I consider my experience relating to immigration practices and assumptions to indicate aspects of this environment in the making. In 2004, I spent six months working for the civil service in the UK as a blandly labelled ‘presenting officer’. A presenting officer presented the Home Secretary’s case for refusing immigration and asylum claims that the applicant had appealed. In such cases, it was common strategy to draw attention to the lack of consistency, in terms of both narrative and between a person and their papers. Narrative consistency was required: the same story had to be told to the case officer on presenting a claim and in the courtroom to the adjudicator and in any and every opportunity to retell the tale the applicant had. Any inconsistency was taken as evidence of deceit. A person had to be able to document their birth, entries and exits to the UK, schooling, workplaces, income and family relationships. The requirements of consistency reified relationships that had documentary existence over those that did not. Lack of documents undermined a person’s ability to make their case.
Amanda J. Reinke
, confidentiality agreements, local and state funding and grant paperwork, and other official documentation standardizes and professionalizes the otherwise informal work of restorative justice ( Reinke 2016 ). The standardization and professionalization manifest in