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The European Union and Beyond

Institutional Racism 2.0 within the State of Exception: Migrants’ Legal Lawlessness and Day-to-Day Discrimination

Local Government
Policy Implementation
Giacomo Orsini
Université catholique de Louvain
Giacomo Orsini
Université catholique de Louvain
Sarah Smit
Université catholique de Louvain

In studying how the design and implementation of exceptional measures became the new normal of the governance of migration in Europe, many focused on migrants’ detention. Yet, migrants’ detention centres are just the most visible manifestations of a continuous of institutional and non-institutional tactics developed to keep unwanted migrants outside the margins of the polis – and, consequently, of the rule of law. Presented as necessary measures to ensure safety to all Europeans, a series of legal and bureaucratic restrictions were promoted to regulate multiple spheres of third country nationals’ everyday life. However, a close look at the everyday interactions between migrants and these exceptional norms and regulations demonstrates their racist nature. By adopting a mainly qualitative top-down and bottom-up approach, here we analyse first how exceptional legal and extra-legal frameworks were introduced by Belgian authorities to regulate several areas of non-EU migrants public and private lives in Belgium. Second, we discuss the everyday interactions that Congolese, US and Indian migrants have with these special normative tools as their implementation is mediated by Belgian administrators in municipal, regional or federal offices. The selection of these three groups allowed us to deal with the greatest variability of legal statuses, enabling us to put the effect of these diverse legislations and institutional tactics, in relation with a series of other variables such as for instance ethnicity. This is how we show that migrants of different nationality but same legal status, experience diverse degrees of discrimination and exclusion. By combining law, demography and sociology, we thus bring to light the functioning of those liminal spaces where the boundaries of citizenship are constantly redefined against a “dangerous other”. From this ground-level angle, the racist nature of the ‘state of exception’ becomes evident as it is exercised on migrants.
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