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Sub-National Authorities in Strategic Interactions: a Case Study of Policy Contestation and Undocumented Migrant Reception in Amsterdam

Local Government
Migration
Social Movements
Asylum
Mobilisation
Activism
Sander Mensink
University of Amsterdam
Sander Mensink
University of Amsterdam

Abstract

Sub-national authorities play an important role in immigration policymaking and implementation, and also in the contestation of existing national immigration policies and governance. Especially their role in these contestation practices is understudied, with the recent interest in sanctuary and fearless city policies as an important exception. Municipal governments can play a pivotal role between national government and civil society actors that push for societal and policy changes in the area of undocumented migrant reception. Based on in-depth interviews and document analysis, I analyse two episodes in 2013 and 2018 during which the Amsterdam municipal government was involved in giving shelter to a large group of undocumented migrants in the city, despite strong opposition from national government. While the episodes yielded different interactional patterns and outcomes, both took place in a context of increasingly restrictive and right wing national immigration policies. At the same time, bottom-up pressure was generated by a local action group called ‘We Are Here’; a collective of undocumented migrants, solidarity activists and affiliated organizations. I argue that in such cases, it is conceptually important to recognize that sub-national authorities can simultaneously be contentious claim-makers (for example towards national government) and objects of claim making (for example by social movements). I adopt a strategic interaction perspective that ‘breaks down the state’ into many different (sometimes conflicting) players which have different interactions with migrant movements. This perspective focuses on actions and reactions in constantly changing, multi-level configurations. I show how sub-national authorities shift their positions and roles in the implementation and contestation of migration policies on the basis of the interactions with other state players and migrant movements.