On ‘illegality’ as normal and transient

Over the weekend I attended an interesting workshop on immigration and citizenship policies in Italy and Japan at St.Antony’s College in Oxford. Prof Maurizio Ambrosini (Sociology, University of Milan) gave an interesting talk on the ambiguities embedded in Italy’s immigration regime. I noted down a few points which I found particularly interesting as they resonate with some of the work I’m currently doing:

  • for many years in Italy immigration has been framed almost exclusively in terms of ‘social problem’, with little if any attention to the relationship between immigration and labour market demand/dynamics – a significant and telling omission in a Catholic country;
  • Migrants’ landing from sea (e.g. Lampedusa) are significantly overestimated in the public opinion (a number of surveys confirm this) as a result of a distorted media representation and political rhetoric.
  • The approach to irregular immigration is ambigous. While political rhetoric emphasises ‘zero tollerance’ and invokes mass deportation/detention of migrants, basic figures from 2009 show a different story. Of an estimated population of 500,000 undocumented migrants, 14,000 were deported and 300,000 were regularised via an amnesty.
  • irregularity of legal status is the normality for most regular immigrants in Italy, who are likely to have experienced at some point in their life in Italy, for shorter or longer time, undocumentedness.
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