Unravelling unauthorized migrants’ legal consciousness processes

Research output: Types of ThesisDoctoral ThesisInternal


Nation-states turn themselves to ‘the law’ to limit the presence of migrants without a legal status on their territory. Yet, they encounter limitations that hinder them to make these migrants (forcedly) leave the country while these migrants see themselves confronted with undesirable living conditions because of the law. This raises questions on the functioning of the law for unauthorized migrants.
This study offers answers to the intriguing puzzle of how law matters to these migrants and how this is of concern for the law. Drawing on multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork among 105 (former) unauthorized migrants in the Netherlands, Surinam and Nigeria as well as participant observations in the Dutch immigration system, the study portrays unauthorized migrants’ legal consciousness processes over time. By doing so, it gives these people a voice in the migration debate. Moreover, it illustrates that the Dutch authorities have created a comprehensive, multi-layered system to discourage unauthorized residence. This system – which unauthorized migrants perceive as the law – is powerful given its strong constitutive effects at the migrants’ everyday, social, existential and legal level. Yet, it is also powerless if seen through an instrumental lens as unauthorized migrants may continue their unauthorized residence while the authorities lack coercive measures to realize the migrants’ departure. The powerful and powerless effect differently impact on unauthorized migrants, although they are all somehow affected by it. These insights expose the legal, moral and instrumental limits of the authorities’ use of the law and call for a different legal approach towards unauthorized migrants.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Erasmus University Rotterdam
  • Staring, Richard, Supervisor
  • Boone, MM, Supervisor, External person
Award date9 Feb 2024
Place of PublicationThe Hague
Print ISBNs978-90-4730-209-4
Electronic ISBNs978-94-0011-399-2
Publication statusPublished - 9 Feb 2024

Research programs

  • SAI 2005-04 MSS


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