Artists help with research into “crimmigration”

Case

Artists help with research into “crimmigration”

Immigration and criminality are increasingly a dual entity in the public debate. “Crimmigration” threatens minorities, but also jurisprudence, states Maartje van der Woude.

Maartje van der WoudeMaartje van der Woude (Photo: Jussi Puikkonen)

The Professor of Law and Society has engaged artists to stimulate the public debate about this.

We’ve grown somewhat accustomed to it: Donald Trump who labels Mexican immigrants as “murderers and rapists” and Dutch politician Geert Wilders who says that most Moroccans come to the Netherlands “to cause problems”. ‘They propagate the idea that immigration and criminality go hand in hand’, says Maartje van der Woude. ‘And that is reflected in legislation. Migration policy is increasingly assuming the characteristics of crime policy, and vice versa. And that is something new: crimmigration.’

The term “crimmigration” was coined in the United States in 2006 by professor Juliet Stumph. She came up with this term when she examined the interwovenness of migration law and criminal law from the perspective of the “membership theory”. According to this membership theory, only people who are “full members” of society are entitled to the individual rights and privileges guaranteed by the constitution. Criminal law and immigration law give governments the means to exclude people from full membership. The American government is increasingly making use of this possibility.

Did you know? Article 23 of the Schengen Borders Code with respect to open borders gives Member States possibilities to carry out a range of checks in border areas. The borders are far less open for someone with a different skin colour or nationality than they are for white Western Europeans.

Article 23

Have governments in Europe gone the same way? Absolutely, observes Van der Woude in her NWO Vidi project entitled “Getting to the core of crimmigration”. That is partly due to increased mobility as a consequence of internal European borders disappearing. In theory, the borders between Member States are open, but in practice that does not apply to everybody. Article 23 of the Schengen Borders Code with respect to open borders gives Member States possibilities to carry out a range of checks in border areas. And those options are used to the full, says Van der Woude. ‘Crimmigrant stereotypes play an important role in that respect. The borders are far less open for someone with a different skin colour or nationality than they are for white Western Europeans.’

Extra punishment

Crimmigration is quietly encroaching more areas, she states. One such example is illegal residence being made a criminal offence in a number of EU countries. Illegal residents would normally be dealt with through administrative law via a deportation, but now undocumented migrants can end up in prison or receive a fine if they do not possess the right papers. ‘Therefore, vengeance instead of restoration - as would be prescribed in administrative law.’

I want the groups that my research is about to come together and talk

Criminal offences committed by immigrants can also increasingly have consequences for their immigration status. In other words: an immigrant who commits an offence, risks deportation or a pronouncement of undesirability as extra punishment.

The Netherlands has taken an active approach, as can be witnessed at immigration detention centres. The regime there is far more sober than in standard prisons. Whereas “normal” criminals can start a study or another day activity, refugees who are locked up are allowed to do absolutely nothing. Every hint of resocialisation is discouraged because, ultimately, everything is aimed at deportation.

Liquid Society

These observations do not inspire optimism. But Van der Woude is taking a striking step to make these complex issues discussable for a wide public: she will collaborate with Liquid Society. This artist initiative from Leiden focuses on producing socially engaged art. By seeking the tension between empathy, resilience, freedom and violence, the initiative tries to build bridges between groups and to stimulate dialogue. They do this through exhibitions, theatre, workshops and lectures.

I’d like to give something back to society and nudge people to critically reflect – without imposing “the truth” on somebody

Through the collaboration, Van der Woude wants to increase the societal relevance of her research. ‘Peer-reviewed academic publications are also important, but do not contribute to the public debate’, she explains. ‘I want the groups that my research is about to come together and talk.’

As an “activist” researcher, don’t you run the risk of losing your objectivity? ‘I do independent research, but I’m a publicly engaged researcher’, responds Van der Woude. ‘I’d like to give something back to society and nudge people to critically reflect – without imposing “the truth” on somebody.’

She believes that the artists can help her to throw new light on “awkward” subjects such as racism and exclusion, not by choosing sides, but by examining all aspects of an issue. ‘You’re not automatically an alternative type if you’re in favour of migration and you're not by definition a right-wing extremist if you have a problem with migration. I want to help create clarity about where ideas come from.’

She is currently talking with the Egyptian performer Abdalla Daif about making a theatre performance or another artistic expression about crimmigration and exclusion. Amongst other things, this concerns the question about what it’s like to travel to Western Europe as an undocumented migrant. And: how does it feel to be the victim of “social distancing”?

With that, we now strike the heart of the current COVID-19 situation. Van der Woude recently started a study into the relationship between COVID-19 and migration. ‘In some European countries, we can see stricter legislation against migrants due to the unfounded assumption that all migrants are supposed to be carriers of the virus. There is every good reason to examine whether this is a new form of crimmigration.’

The artistic expression in collaboration with Liquid Society as a result of Van der Woude's research is expected to be completed in the spring of 2021. She invites other artists who want to contribute ideas to this theme to contact her.


Text: Edo Beerda