Encountering the ‘welcoming city’? Frontline bureaucrats and non-citizens in a global perspective

Authors: Rachel Humphris*,
Topics: Urban Geography, Ethnicity and Race, Migration
Keywords: migration, citizenship, urban policy, social movements
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/10/2018
Start / End Time: 4:40 PM / 6:20 PM
Room: Galvez, , Marriott, 5th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Worldwide, anti-migrant movements are growing. Governments in Australia, the USA and Europe have recently adopted the policy goal of creating a ‘hostile environment’ for non-citizens. Non-citizens’ access to services are increasingly restricted and many face state-mandated exclusion from services creating ‘internal borders’. Alongside, an outpouring of volunteerism and alternative discourses have emerged, particularly in cities. Balancing a national ‘hostile environment’ and localised ‘sanctuary movement’, urban policy-makers and frontline bureaucrats make life-changing decisions about non-citizens’ access to the welfare state. But what are city-level actors’ motivations, justifications and moral standpoints? This paper will present the analytical framework of ‘encounters’ between state functionaries and irregular migrants as an entry point to understand how sanctuary cities operate in fine-grained ethnographic detail. Research has paid less attention to the quotidian practices of state actors who work at the ‘face of the state’ (Mountz 2004). The majority of frontline workers are from a migration or minority background (Kofman 2000). Some are actively targeted for certain roles because of they are perceived to be ‘culturally proximate’ to clients (Ong 2003: 125-9; Watkins-Hayes 2009: 11-2) giving rise to what Cohen has termed ‘advanced marginalisation’. Members of a marginalised group are called on to serve and discipline the most unincorporated group members (Cohen 1999 63-9). This paper argues that attention to situated actors, embedded relations and the mediating role of space can shed new light on the operation of sanctuary cities from below with implications for how we think about the city and the state.

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