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.
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