Legal Scales II: Relational Approaches to Law and Migration Governance

Fri, 5/31: 12:45 PM  - 2:30 PM 
Paper Session 
Friday Session 3 
Room: Thornton Lounge 
While local authorities are claiming a more proactive role in refugee reception and integration, critics are increasingly arguing against pastoral visions of local migration governance and in favour of relational conceptualizations of 'multiscalar' power hierarchies. This panel explores this claim from the angle of legal regulation, which has so far been absent from the discussion. In how far are power relations shaped by legal frameworks? What do contestations regarding the interpretation and application of norms tell us about scalar dimensions of migration governance? In turn, how can a multiscalar perspective on migration and cities inform discussions about legal frameworks and jurisdictions? In situating practices of local migration governance, what insights are to be gained from theories of legal pluralism and critical legal studies?


Jeff Handmaker, International Institute of Social Studies, Erasmus University  - Contact Me


Judith Resnik, Yale Law School  - Contact Me


02: Citizenship and Immigration

Primary Keyword

Migration and Refugee Studies

Secondary Keyword

Geographies of Law


'Cities of Refuge' Through a Multiscalar Perspective


The question if and to what extent local authorities might adopt 'local' responses to irregular migration has increasingly become a political fault line across different political and geographical contexts. In the European context, Dutch cities for instance, increasingly invoke practical, political and legal arguments in support for local support measures for irregular migrants that diverge from increasingly restrictive national policy frameworks.

Drawing from theories of legal pluralism and socio-legal research in two Dutch cities, this paper explores how and why municipal actors in these municipalities, have engaged with different sources of law, citing different legal obligations on the basis of interpretations of constitutional and municipal law, to justify support policies for irregular migrants. A more recent trend has furthermore been to invoke international human rights law in defense of local approaches to support irregular migrants in the city. This paper investigates how these municipal responses are premised on local understandings of duty, citizenship and normative assumptions about the scalar nature of migration governance.

This paper argues that these responses of municipal authorities to irregular migration should be understood through the lens of a multiscalar perspective, instead of an exclusively localist or pastoral vision of local migration governance. To support this argument, the paper situates arguments adopted by municipal actors in these Dutch municipalities in favor of local practices of incorporating irregular migrants in the city, within wider spheres of practice which cut across various scales. 


Sara Miellet, Utrecht University  - Contact Me

De-Nationalizing the Immigration Power


This article argues that immigration is at heart a local issue--not a national one--and that the immigration power should be reenvisioned to reflect this fact. Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and other immigrant gateways (like Houston, Texas) have a unique set of cultural, physical, and legal traits that allow them to incorporate and assimilate more immigrants than nationally-set visa allotments permit. By contrast, other localities are new to immigration and have economies, cultures and geographies that are less well adapted to immigrant incorporation. The wide variation in state and local immigrant carrying capacity means centralized immigration law and politics ill serves all immigration law constituencies. Careful, disaggregated devolution of core aspects of the immigration power down to localities would permit better sorting of immigrants into locales where they are welcomed as people rather than merely tolerated as labor. Additionally, there are reasons to believe that many "anti-immigrant" locales would make more moderate choices under conditions of policy autonomy than they do now, when real responsibility and power lies in Washington. Local constituencies may view local immigrants differently, and with more empathy at the scale of the "village" than the "nation"--as neighbors, rather than aliens. Thus citizens' answers to immigration questions may vary systematically based on the scale of community where the question is posed. One-size-fits-all immigration law has contributed to the rise of right-wing nationalism in the US; it is time for scholars seriously to grapple with the value--and tradeoffs--of a more decentralized immigration system. 


Daniel Morales, DePaul University College of Law  - Contact Me

Legal Visibility: Documenting Noncitizens in Federal, State, and Local Bureaucracies


Research examines how punitive U.S. immigration policies chill noncitizens out of federal, state, and local bureaucracies useful for mobility. Even with average decreases in utilization, however, chilling effects are rarely complete. How can researchers better account for noncitizens' range of involvement with mobility-enhancing bureaucracies? This article offers a framework centered on legal visibility, or the scope of involvement with federal-, state-, and local-level bureaucracies that noncitizens perceive as possible for facilitating daily life while also minimizing their sense of the potential for punishment from the U.S. immigration regime. I show that documentation in the federal immigration regime-in its bureaucratic or punitive side-can entail similar feelings of risk for noncitizens of any legal status who perceive this system as searching for reasons to punish and exclude noncitizens legible to its formal records. But noncitizens do not always view involvement in federal-, state-, or local-level bureaucracies-ranging from the Internal Revenue Service to City Hall, as well as welfare offices, schools, and hospitals-to be as risky as involvement in the U.S. immigration regime. Indeed, some may go so far as to "document" themselves to bureaucracies they believe are conducive to establishing their "good moral character," to maximizing their families' socioeconomic mobility, or to promoting their sense of stability-all within the constraints of the law. The bounds of legal visibility are set by national policy contexts but can vary according to state- and local-level conditions that render visibility to record-keeping institutions as more or less risky to noncitizens. Legal visibility calls attention to previously-hidden pathways that can simultaneously integrate and marginalize noncitizens from mainstream societal institutions. These arguments are supported by findings from a five-year study of Latin American-origin families living in Dallas, Texas. 


Asad Asad, Stanford University  - Contact Me

Migration Law and Questions of Scale


Though law is understood to merely operate at certain sites and scales (e.g., municipal law, national law, international law) it is, perhaps more importantly, a preeminent scale- and space-making technique. The scale-making capacity of law is intimately tied to notions of jurisdiction. This paper addresses the scale-making capacity of law through an analysis of the legal regulation of colonial Indian migration in the early twentieth century. Focusing on legal debates that circulated between India, England, Canada, and South Africa -- all part of the unwieldy, legally differentiated, and racially stratified British empire -- the paper shows how, with respect to migration, imperial, provincial, and local scales were rendered legally illegible (as were non-state entities) even as the national scale emerged as the normative scale for migration regulation. This historical analysis enables us to dislodge the centrality of the national scale in thinking about migration. In closing, the paper reflects on recent efforts by some local governments to serve as a refuge for illegalized migrants or to integrate refugees, to suggest that such efforts, as also strategies deployed by migrants themselves, can be usefully understood as alternative scale-making projects that challenge the legitimacy of the national scale. 


Radhika Mongia, York University  - Contact Me

Municipal Citizenship, State Deportation, and the International Right to Belong


Citizenship is at the core of nation-state sovereignty and is determined by the citizenship laws of a given state. Belonging, by contrast, is an anthropological concept that is determined by embeddedness within a group, community or populous, often at the municipal level. As a result, there is frequently a tension between legal formality and communal morality when a nation-state seeks to deport a non-citizen who belongs to a community despite their non-citizenship. This paper asks the question: Who determines when migrants can be deported from nation-states to which they are not citizens? The paper argues that a multi-scalar perspective is needed to address the interplay between municipal citizenship, nation-state authority to deport, and international treaty body pronouncements on the right to enter one's own country. Using the case study of a refugee to Canada who was apprehended by child protection services, spent more than a decade "in care," and then faced deportation to Somalia, the paper shows that who determines the right to deport or the right to belong is not a simple question and is instead a relational power contest between communities, nation-states, and international human rights law treaty bodies. In the case of Canada, this contest takes on a constitutional dimension, since the exercise of discretion by immigration authorities must accord with constitutional values and binding international human rights law. 


Benjamin Perryman, Yale Law School  - Contact Me

Sanctuary, Scale and Jurisdiction


The sanctuary city movement is a transnational response to increased numbers of non-status migrants living and working in global cities. Municipal governments in Canada and the United States have played a role by promulgating ordinances aimed at minimizing local cooperation with federal authorities and enhancing access to services; the most strident policies challenge the exclusivity of federal authority over migration. Legal geographers and others approach sanctuary through the concept of scale, with the local or urban offering new ways of thinking about rights, belonging and even citizenship. However, scale can obscure the ways in which assemblages of practices, powers, and techniques of governance transcend jurisdictional boundaries. Urban securitization reflects this well, where local police and others cooperate with federal authorities in the management of perceived risks to state and citizen. Indeed, the historic inapplicability of robust rights regimes to local, discretionary power suggests that cities are distinctively hospitable to the securitization of migration.
This presentation will critique scalar analyses of sanctuary, and argue that sanctuary should instead be viewed through the lens of jurisdiction. Consisting in both formal doctrine and the process through which the apportionment of authority is contested, jurisdiction allows us to track and critique the ways in which the governance of migration and of security intermingle across scales. Theoretical arguments will be supported by socio-legal research on sanctuary cities informed by legal pluralist frameworks. Special attention will be paid to the collection and protection of information from the incongruous standpoints of service delivery and border enforcement. 


Graham Hudson, Ryerson University, Toronto  - Contact Me

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