The complexities of immigration control

The complexities of immigration control

There have been reports of increasing numbers of asylum seekers. Are policy responses focusing on combating human smuggling and guarding Europe´s external borders effective, or does the complex policy field of immigration control face greater challenges?

In the past few weeks there have been reports of increasing numbers of asylum seekers coming to the Netherlands. According to State Secretary Teeven, the numbers are alarming and it is necessary to put an end to these increasing flows. As many asylum seekers make use of human smugglers, Teeven’s response was to investigate the possibilities of increasing border patrols and other efforts to combat human smuggling. But are such policy responses effective?

It could of course be the case that human smugglers – who constantly change their routes – have found a new route that is proving exceptionally successful. In that case, increasing police efforts might indeed help to bring the numbers down, that is, until the smugglers find other successful routes again. As students of Crime and Criminal Justice know, this is a game of cat and mouse, and smugglers can obviously never completely be stopped. Moreover, it is also plausible that the sudden surge in numbers coming to the Netherlands has a different cause. One that calls for different policy responses from politicians with goals like Teeven´s.

It may be that Southern European countries like Italy – where many immigrants arrive first – feel so overburdened that they allow more immigrants to move on to other destinations without registering. Italy has often called for other European countries to come to its aid. Italy claims that, in a United Europe, the immigrants who cross their borders are not an Italian but a European problem. Their calls for help have, however, largely remained unanswered. It may be that countries like Italy have decided to give the rest of Europe a taste of what they themselves are experiencing. If this were the case, an often heard easy solution would be to point countries like Italy towards their formal responsibilities. However, in the complex policy field of immigration, we have seldom seen such easy solutions work. In fact, many governments realise that external border control can only be partially effective and that it creates a lot of unwanted side-effects with fatal incidents being the order of the day.

As governments realise that they cannot control their external borders effectively, they increasingly turn to policies of internal control. If immigrants cannot be stopped from entering the country, governments aim to exclude them from formal institutions and to discourage them in the hope that they might leave voluntarily. A wide array of policy measures has been developed to do so. Examples include exclusion from public services; surveillance by the police; policies of identification, detention and expulsion; and labour market control. At the same time, all immigrants have rights that are partly rooted in supranational agreements and international human rights discourses. Such contradictions raise serious policy questions, as immigration is dealt with as a security problem, whereas countries also have responsibilities to safeguard immigrants´ human rights.

Immigration control may indeed be among the most complicated policy puzzles of our times. Those who would like to know more about these and other challenges for effective and legitimate Criminal Justice policies, please take a look at our Criminal Justice Master programme.


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