Sunday, August 8, 2010

[eljoma thinks] What makes a migrant illegal: the person, his actions, or his context?

Migrants who have no permission to stay in a host country object to being called illegal migrants. If the host country's rules or laws (the migrant's "context") require migrants to have permission in order to continue staying within its borders, then not having permission is, in fact, an illegal or unlawful act, that is, an act prohibited or not authorized by law.

The issue is the association of the word illegal with the word criminal. Illegal migrant is taken to mean criminal migrant.
Can the things that illegal migrants do -- backbreaking, honest, hard work to support a needy family back home -- be considered crimes? This is the central argument of those that repel at being referred to as illegal migrants.

All crimes are illegal. But not all illegal acts are crimes. Rape, murder and plunder are crimes. The perceived severity of the act -- or the degree to which it goes against widely accepted societal norms -- is key to an act being considered a crime. Which widely held societal norms does migration without permission violate?

Compounding the issue are the naming practices currently in use. The name given to the person who commits a crime (i.e. rapist, murderer, plunderer) refers more to the crime he committed rather than to the person himself. But why does the term "illegal migrant" refer more to the migrant himself (or the person himself) being illegal? The term illegal migration seems to be less contentious (than the term illegal migrant) because it focuses on the act and not on the person.

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