Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: American Ethnological Society
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Students, Those Involved in Mentoring Activities
Primary Theme: Borders
Secondary Theme: Immigration/Migration/Citizenship
Hannah Arendt once argued that migrants would be better treated if they were criminals, because at least then they would have a place in law and society. Today, those two categories have become conflated: migrants are often readily assumed to be criminal, and the boundaries between migration management systems and the criminal justice system are becoming increasingly blurred. Politicians and the media peg migrants to be terrorists, smugglers, rapists, thieves, and murderers. Some migrants are labeled as “illegal” just for crossing borders in the first place. Economic migrants are viewed as criminals who do not deserve refugee status, while refugees tend to be criminalized through the delegitimization of their claims to asylum and protection. Both migrants and refugees are often automatically seen as a threat to national security.
Yet, there are many indications that migrants have a much more complicated relationship to the category of “the criminal.” Migrants are often the victims of crime, including trafficking, robbery, and fraud. Laws are often put into place that criminalize activities that are necessary to migrants’ survival, including working, trading, inhabiting informal camps, or residing in urban areas. The efforts of volunteers who help them have also often been criminalized, rendering what is meant as humanitarian action into anti-state action.
In this panel, we interrogate the ways specific kinds of migrants are associated with specific forms of criminality. We ask how race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion, and nationality make some kinds of migrants more likely to be assumed criminal than others. We also investigate what happens when refugees are pushed beyond the bounds of the legal and participate in activities that are considered criminal. Why do migrants participate in such criminal activities, and how does it impact their lives and their migration status? What happens when crimes are committed against migrants themselves? What transpires when migrants are simultaneously both perpetrators and victims of criminal activities? How do hierarchies of credibility figure into the realm of migrant criminality? In confronting the relationship between categories of migration and criminality, we hope to complicate simplistic notions of migrants as either innocent victims or dangerous aggressors.