Right to legalisation!

Discussion paper for the september workshop in London

23.Sep.04 - Irregular Migration" has become one of the main targets of migration policies in all countries of the European Union. Along with the demand for so called "desired immigrants" this marks an important contradiction of the present migration regime. We have to understand that the idea of "necessary immigration" is also a governmental response to the unability of the states to control migration. In other words: Everyday people are crossing borders. Thus they undermine the border regime. They practice what can be called the autonomy of migration - a movement that can not be controlled by state policies. In the light of Sans Papiers Movements throughout Europe kanak attak has been suggesting a Campaign for the Right of Legalization. The concept of Legalization does not primarily aim a classical regularization, but wants to combine a diversity of struggles.

Being aware of the different experiences that the antiracist and migrant movements within Europe have made with the label and the practice of "legalization" we do not want to promote a uniform campaign. While in Italy regularization might be an instrument of right-wing migration policy, in France the claim for "papers" is strongly connected to the sans-papier movement. Despite these differing situations legalization puts on the agenda the struggle for rights. Rights not only for the invisible ground-staff of globalization, the workers "sans papiers", but for all migrants.

On this ground, Legalization is meant to be an intervention on several levels. First, it is an attempt to overcome the division of labour within the antiracist movement in Germany. A symptom for this division of labour is the fact that each of the different groups engaged with antiracism in Germany sticks to its theme of interest. People are concerned with asylum policies or the support of asylum seekers, they deal with the refugee regimes and counter the practice of deportation, they are organised in selfdetermined groups of refugees and migrants, with left-wing anti-racist work or anti-fascism. Being concerned with the racist migration regimes, so far none of us was able to overcome the division of its different elements or aspects. Meanwhile this division of labour became an expression of the very crisis of antiracism. Not only that bridging this division has become task in itself - a clear political defensivness is written into the structure of this division. The decisive point is that antiracism did not go beyond a reaction to transformations in society. Every tightening up of laws leads to a counter-reaction by the antiracist scene, a reaction that is calculable for those we fight. Our actions lag behind the initiatives of those in power, as it does not seem to be possible to consolidate the various elements of anti-racist activities.

Secondly, the attempt to introduce an Immigration Law in Germany shows first and foremost the attempt to implement a new division and segregation of immigrants according to to requirements of capitalist exploitation. The pressure to introduce such a law clearly came with the support from dynamic, internationalised factions of capital. From the perspective of migrants in particular, the change in political climate for the last couple of years was not insignificant. The transformation of the racist regime brought a simplification the different forms of residence permission. The public debate around foreigners and refugees relaxed to some extend and space for intervention opened up. The claim for a right of legalisation aims at reformulating - in a suitable way in this context - the demand for open borders in a concrete situation, in order to facilitate political action. In principle, any person who is not a German citizen can lose his or her right of abode or residency - whether it is because of receiving social welfare or committing a crime - and thus become illegalized. So if the question is how a relative autonomy of migration could be translated into a political agenda, the right of legalization of the undocumented should be established, and a policy should be endorsed that demands political and social rights independent of citizenship. The formula is quite simple: Legalisation before Amendment. First those made 'illegal' by immigration policies have to get a different social status.

The third aspect is inscribed as a contradiction in the slogan itself: "Right to legalisation". While it is clear that "legalisation" is referring to state practices of regularization of undocumented immigration (in the 1960ies and 1970ies in France i.e. legalization was the main mode of organizing immigration by the government) the struggle for "rights" goes beyond its results, i.e. changes in government policies or laws. Struggles for rights in history have had always more effects than their declared targets. They constitute the ones involved in the fight as political subjects. Not only in the obvious simple sense: Only in struggles new forms of politics are being created, new relations are being formed, alternative forms of community are being lived. The Struggle for the Right of Legalization is therefore more than an administrative adjustment, it is an attack on migration control and the racist practices inherent. It attempts to continue the historical and present struggles of migrants throughout Europe. However, legalization is not the utopian dream of a general strike of all migrants. Legalization puts in the front what happens everyday, the appropation of rights within illegality and helps articulating it politically. Thus, the centre of the political is not placed in the abstract universe of "political correctness", where political claims are deduced from ideas, but in the concrete world of everyday life.

Instead of being trapped between protecting what is left of asylum as a would-be realistic approach and demanding "open borders" as the classic maximalism inherent in all left-wing politics, Legalisation looks for an alternative. Maximalism and Realism seem oppositional, but in practice transitions from one position to the other are seamless, because they are only based in ideological considerations. Legalization rather shares an immanent perspective, where an analysis of conjunctures and historical constellations is decisive. But putting struggles in the centre of this concept of politics doesn't mean defining a new revolutionary subject.

The claim for legalization obviously alludes to the topics of law and state. Fighting for the right to Legalization seems to lead to a collaboration with the state. Is Legalization only an appeal to the law? We think that making a distinction between rights and laws could help to develop a concept that overcomes some anti-etatistic paradoxies of left radicalism. Rights have historically always been a form in which the subaltern forced the ruling classes into compromises. The contradictory and inconsistent structure of the capitalist state is a very result of struggles, which often took the form of struggles for rights, from the right to abortion to the 8hour-working day. Thus laws can be seen as state's response to the struggle for rights.

But how far can we go? That depends on our ability to form alliances and to connect the claim for legalization with the day to day life of the migrant communities. Everything depends on what antiracism is able to enforce within the institutionalized compromise. The water shed between emancipatory and administrative aspects within such a compromise will be whether it expands or restricts migrants' and migrations' room for maneuvre.

Sans Papiers - is a status everybody who has got foreign passport, even EU-citizens, can achieve under the wrong conditions. Today every migrant family can tell tales on illegalization. Legalization is thus about the real circumstances of life, about creating new possibilities of organizing restistance.