Legal status, rights and belonging: International symposia

The analysis of the relationship between legal status, rights and belonging is the central theme of two symposia jointly organised by the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago and the Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS), the Refugee Studies Centre (RSC) and the Oxford Institute of Social Policy (OISP) at the University of Oxford.

The symposia are convened by Dr Roberto G. Gonzales  (University of Chicago) and myself .

Main Themes of the International Symposia

The events will be held respectively in Oxford in April 2013 and in Chicago in October 2013 and will address two interrelated aspects of the relationship between legal status, rights and belonging:

The symposium will investigate the interplay between forms and modes of contemporary membership, migration governance (both immigration and emigration), and the politics of belonging. This will be achieved through in-depth examinations of a range of experiences of membership including, but not limited to, those of:  ethnic minorities; citizen children of undocumented migrant parents; former unaccompanied asylum seeking children; people with dual citizenship; ‘failed’ asylum seekers; and stateless people. Participants are invited to discuss issues such as the position of the non-citizen in contemporary immigration and emigration states; the nexus between human mobility, immigration control, and citizenship; the tension in policy and practice between coexisting traditions and regimes of rights; and the intersection of ‘race’ and other social cleavages and legal status. The Oxford symposium is organised by Dr Nando Sigona (Refugee Studies Centre), Vanessa Hughes (COMPAS) & Dr Elaine Chase (Oxford Institute of Social Policy).

  • Illegality, youth and belonging  (Chicago, October 2013)

This second symposium will explore the confusing and contradictory experiences of belonging and illegality that frame the everyday lives of undocumented immigrant youth. Over the last two decades in the United States, non-citizens have experienced a shrinking of rights while immigrant communities have witnessed an intensification of enforcement efforts in neighbourhoods and public spaces. In effect, these trends have sewn fear and anxiety and narrowed the worlds of youth—such that even mundane acts of driving, waiting for the bus, and traffic stops can lead to the loss of a car, prison and deportation. But these young people have also benefited from local and national efforts to widen access—particularly in the realm of education—providing young immigrants important opportunities to establish connections, form relationships, and participate in the day-to-day life of their communities. The experiences of undocumented immigrant youth teach us about the two-sided nature of citizenship—such that persons can be removed from spaces, denied privileges and rights, but can experience belonging too.

Collectively this joint initiative aims to break new ground through analyses that are empirically informed, theoretically engaged and ethnographically rich and drawing on the expertise of scholars from a range of disciplinary backgrounds and state contexts. As immigration has become a topic of great visibility among scholars, policy makers, and the media, this endeavour holds appeal to a range of audiences. Read the Background paper & Call for Papers

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Kosovo: End of supervision

Western powers overseeing Kosovo have announced the end of their supervision of the Balkan nation, the last to be born out of the dissolution of Yugoslavia.
Since its unilateral declaration of independence from Serbian in Febraury 2008, Kosovo had been overseen by a group made up of 23 EU countries, the US and Turkey. On September 10, 2012 Pieter Feith, the Dutch diplomat serving as both serving as the European Union Special Representative(EUSR) and as the International Civilian Representative in Kosovo, declared the end of international supervision. What does this mean to the ethnic minorities of Kosovo is too early to say.

In 2008, in the months following the declaration of independence, I carried out fieldwork in Kosovo, interviewing several Roma, Askhali and Egyptian Kosovans and wrote two concept papers (Integrating minorities in a post-conflict society and Towards the social inclusion of RAE in Kosovo) to inform the implementation of the Kosovo’s strategy for RAE integration (funded by the EC).  This article published recently in the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies (2012, vol. 38, n.8) discusses some of the findings of the work and portraits the challanges that the supervision status was posing to ethnic minorities. Stemming from my time in Kosovo, I have also published an interview with two very active Roma leaders in Romani Politics in Contemporary Europe (Sigona & Trehan, 2009) and a number of posts on this blog (both texts and photos).

Life in limbo for UK’s irregular migrant children and families

The Obama administration’s recent decision to suspend deportations and grant renewable residence permits to young ‘illegal’ migrants brought up in the United States will benefit up to 800,000 young people. Meanwhile, the UK government offers no solution for its 120,000 irregular migrant children.

By Nando Sigona

Published on openDemocracy, 24 June 2012 (http://www.opendemocracy.net)

For over ten years, the US Congress has been pondering whether or not to pass a bill called the DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) to regularise the position of young undocumented migrants who were brought to the US at an early age.

Given the situation of political standstill, the Obama’s administration, which had championed the bill in the previous electoral campaign, has eventually decided to intervene through an executive action by granting a suspension of deportation proceedings against young undocumented migrants.

With immediate effect, the order stops the deportation of irregular immigrants under 30 years old who arrived in the US before their 16th birthdays. However, to benefit from the protection and be eligible for a two-year work permit (renewable indefinitely), the applicant must have lived in the US continuously for five years, have no criminal record or have graduated from high school or served in the military.

Behind this success story, there is a widespread and well organised youth movement, the DREAMers, that has been campaigning for years to push the Obama’s administration to act on its electoral pledge. The executive order would not have happened without the pressure put up by young undocumented activists through numerous initiatives, including recently the occupation of Obama’s campaign offices. It is not the best possible solution, but is a step in the right direction, not least because of Obama’s renewed endorsement of the cause of the DREAMEers and his promise to continue working for the approval of the DREAM Act by the Congress. To explain his decision to the American people, Obama said:

“These are young people who study in our schools, they play in our neighborhoods, they’re friends with our kids, they pledge allegiance to our flag. They are Americans in their heart, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper.” (Barack Obama, 15 June 2012)

On this side of the Atlantic this population is mostly below the radar of current political debate. Little is known about the UK’s undocumented migrants, and even less about the children who live in Britain without legal immigration status.

A recent study entitled ‘No way out, no way in: Irregular migrant children and families in the UK’ conducted by researchers at the University of Oxford’s Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS), and funded by the Barrow Cadbury Trust, set out to shed light on the lives and livelihoods of these children and their families and examine the extent to which the UK government complies with its commitment to the best interests of every child living in the UK, formally enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC 1989).

Both international and British laws guarantee children access to education and healthcare, irrespective of their immigration status, and oblige public authorities to work in the children’s best interests. But our study suggests that increased demands on public authorities by the UK Border Agency, such as asking social services to report suspected irregular migrants, are pushing families and children away from essential services, leaving them more vulnerable and isolated. This can also mean that children and their families who are victims of serious crime may be afraid to report it to police because of their fears about their immigration status.

Frontline professionals like GPs and teachers are increasingly being asked to check the legal status of children in their care. Not having legal status can mean the children either don’t go to school or can’t participate fully. It also means they may not be able to register with a GP or that pregnant mothers who lack legal status may avoid antenatal and postnatal care because of for fear of being reported to UKBA.

Support organisations that have played an important role as facilitators of access to public services and as providers of emergency assistance for irregular migrant children and families are now struggling due to lack of public funding. This is leading to cuts in services that inevitably will affect the most vulnerable migrants.

One of the main findings of the study concerns the size and demographic profile of this population. The study estimates that there are 120,000 undocumented migrant children in the UK, which corresponds to 0.9 per cent of the overall UK’s population under 18. The large majority of them are either born (65,000) or have spent most of their childhood in the UK. These children were brought up in the UK, educated in British schools and many speak English as their main language. The only home they know is the UK.

While current policy and public debates focus mainly on separated and unaccompanied children in their late teens, the study estimates that most irregular migrant children are under 12 and live with their parents or close relatives.

These findings can potentially have significant policy implications, as they invite a refocus of public understanding of this population. More attention should be paid to the impact of current policy and practice on the early years of irregular migrant children in the UK, starting even before birth with antenatal care. Two areas should be afforded particular consideration: the impact of NHS charging policy for overseas visitors on mothers and babies without legal immigration status, and how existing levels of support are affecting children’s overall development in the foundation years.

Moreover, in assessing the best interests of the child and the impact of irregular status on children one cannot isolate the children from their families and circumstances. The promotion of secure, strong and stable families, in line with the government’s own policies, should therefore be at the centre of policies aimed at promoting the best interests of migrant children.

Overall, the UK government privileges a piecemeal approach that leaves out the big picture. It provides quick and temporary fixes for some, leaving the majority of irregular migrant children out. Even in their best incarnation, and the COMPAS study shows a great deal of local variations in terms of delivering of public services, UK authorities (both national and local) tend to focus on providing essential welfare to vulnerable children on human rights grounds but rarely see and address the reality of 120,000 young people who grew up in the UK and, as a result of current and previous policies, are de facto non-deportable while permanently excluded from citizenship.

Meanwhile, the political momentum behind the campaign for an earned amnesty for undocumented migrants championed by a coalition of NGOs, Churches, local authorities and with the support (recently withdrawn) of the Mayor of London, languishes. What does it take for a UK’s DREAMers movement to emerge?


“No Way Out, No Way In: Irregular migrant children and families in the UK”, by Dr. Nando Sigona and Vanessa Hughes, published by COMPAS, is being launched at the House of Lords on Monday, 25 June 2012.

Source URL: http://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/nando-sigona/life-in-limbo-for-uk%E2%80%99s-irregular-migrant-children-and-families

Good news! 800,000 undocumented migrants given the right to DREAM

Activists in Arizona (Source: The Guardian)

For over ten years, the US Congress has been pondering if to pass or not a bill called the DREAM act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) to regularise the position of undocumented migrants who had been brought to the US at an early age. Given the situation of political standstill, the Obama’s administration has eventually decided (out of opportunism and genuine committment) to intervene on the matter through an executive action bypassing the Congress. The executive order grants a suspension of deportation proceedings against young undocumented migrants (with a number of specifications) and issue renewable temporary permits of residence.

The so-called Dreamers movement has been campaigning hard to push the Obama’s administration to act on its electoral promise for years (see the recent campaign). This is a great success story for migrants’ activism. The executive order is not as good as the Dream Act, but at least a step in the right direction. Not least for the strong and public endorsement from Obama to push once again the Dream Act through the Congress. When will we see a Dreamers movement in the UK?

For more info read Amy Goodman’s piece on the Guardian and the coverage of the Los Angeles Times

The Arab Spring and beyond: human mobility, forced displacement and humanitarian crises

By Nando Sigona

Migration in its various forms has been part of the popular uprisings that have spread across North Africa and the Middle East in 2011. First, the columns of vehicles escaping from cities and villages under siege in Libya came to represent the plight of civilians caught between conflicting parties and played an important role in galvanising Western public opinion in support for the international involvement, both military and humanitarian, in Libya. Second, the isle of Lampedusa and the boats crammed with migrants and refugees crossing the Mediterranean Sea contributed to
resuscitating the powerful rhetoric of invasion in Europe and have come to represent the ambiguity of Western states’ responses to those fleeing from North Africa — this has included proposals for re-negotiating the Schengen
Agreement and increasing the role of Frontex, the EU agency tasked to coordinate the operational cooperation between Member States in the field of border security. Finally, the numerous dissidents returning from exile
give an indication of the involvement of diaspora organisations in the uprisings and raise interesting questions on the role they will play in the creation and consolidation of new state institutions.
These few examples only serve to alert us of the broader ramifications of the ways in which human mobility is intersecting current events in North Africa and the Middle East.
The ‘North Africa in Transition: Mobility, Forced Migration and Humanitarian Crises’ workshop organised by the Refugee Studies Centre in association with the International Migration Institute (IMI) on 6 May 2011 offered a platform to begin to explore how these events have affected and transformed existing patterns of mobility in the region and generated new ‘mixed’ migration flows. As a result of the crises, economic migrants have become forced migrants and forced migrants were forced into entering irregular migration channels in the search for survival, while others, including seasonal and long established migrants have become ‘involuntarily immobile’, such as migrant workers stuck inside Libya.
See the workshop report, with podcasts, at www.rsc.ox.ac.uk/ events/northafrica-in-transition
The RSC, IMI and the Oxford Diasporas Programme at the University of Oxford  are planning a follow-up workshop with the involvement of international scholars, practitioners and policy makers on 20th March 2012 which aims to reconsider the relationship between human mobility and the Arab Spring more broadly.