From Illegality to Tolerance and Beyond: Irregular Immigration As a Selective and Dynamic Process
Immigration defined as ‘illegal’ is a typical area where the dominant representations differ from social phenomena. In particular, actual policies differ from declared policies, and the behaviors of many actors, including public authorities and civil servants, diverge from declarations and formal rules. Within this framework, this article deals with two issues. The first is the selective treatment of irregular immigration by receiving societies: some forms of irregular immigration are widely tolerated, others are more actively rejected. The second, and related issue, is the easier transition to a legal status of some irregular migrants, especially those who encounter some forms of tolerance in receiving societies.
Focusing mainly on Southern European and the Italian setting, the paper will start by discussing how some immigrants are labeled as illegal and thus stigmatized (the case in point are now asylum seekers), while other immigrants, even when living in the receiving society without the necessary authorization, are neither perceived nor treated as ‘illegal’: the main case in point are women, hired by native households as domestic and care workers.
The paper will then discuss the passage to a legal status, in particular through regularization processes, concerning mainly ‘tolerated’ irregular immigrants. To explain first tolerance and then the passage to a legal status, I will focus on actors that enable immigrants’ survival and progression, and in particular on the intermediaries between the receiving societies and irregular immigrants.
In conclusion, the paper will highlight: 1) the relations between the social recognition and formal authorization of migrants; 2) the devices that immigrants can use to acquire legal status; 3) the main intermediaries who support immigrants in entering a new country, integrating into local society, and acquire legal status