At its core, migrant “illegality” is a strategy aimed at preserving the status quo. The “status quo” we are referring to here is the desired quality of life (economic well-being, shared beliefs, etc) of nationals of a host state.
How migrant “illegality” preserves this desired quality of life is fairly straightforward. National boundaries and ethnicity effect group membership and thus entitlement to that group’s quality of life. Whoever is non-compliant with that group’s membership rules is “illegal.” To be sure, even endemic members can be non-compliant (criminals, offenders) and thus “illegal.”
But indeed, such is the paradox of migrant “illegality” because while the “illegality” of endemic members is subject to punishment, reform and subsequent resumption of full membership privileges upon their re-entry into society, migrant “illegality’s” “illegality” is subject to punishment and expulsion from the national boundaries. “Illegality” in the former case is determined by one layer of group rules (local laws). “Illegality” in the latter case is determined also by those same group rules and by a second set of rules legitimized solely on the principle of membership.
Thus in migrant “illegality” a distinct and otherwise impotent, inconveivable even, class of offenses to endemic members – such as entry without permission, staying beyond a finite duration, and working in a job other than that which was authorized – become wieldy political currency transacted at will by the host state to address concerns of its constituents. These concerns on the status quo may include, among others, peace and order (recall the discussion on the APCCRS) and job availability (recall the discussion on labor protectionism).
What is compelling then in the subject of migrant “illegality” – especially as applied to the particular case of Japan – are three paradoxes that arise given the situation I describe above.
The first paradox: actions by vested interests in migrant “illegality” are at times incoherent, producing outcomes inconsistent with their avowed goals. One example of this, among others I cite throughout this paper, is the Status of Residence System which defines the limits on duration and productivity of migrants but also launches “backdoors” which non-compliant migrants easily exploit, in turn becoming their staging point to “illegality.”
The second paradox: the particular nature of the concept of social membership in Japan – that is, that embedded foreign ethnic pockets, forged thru specific events in its recent history (imperial/colonial/war defeat/1980s influx of newcomers), are at once members and non-members, renders a migrant “illegality” based on membership inclusion or membership exclusion highly tenuous. I cited the cases of the Koreans and the Filipinos and argued that what I call a “Compatriot Mechanism” effectively negates the control function of the SRS, resulting in the sustenance of migrant “illegality.”
The third paradox: inspite of the label of “illegal,” migrants unabashedly persist, some even thriving, beating the zero-sum immigration control system in Japan. To further this contention, I discussed the case of Bilog savings and showed that “excluded” does not necessarily mean “non-functional.”