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Engaging with the State. Illegalized migrants, welfare institutions and the law in French-Speaking Belgium

Sophie Andreetta

Mig. Pol. 1, 001 (2022) · published 21 March 2022


By highlighting informal strategies and solidarities on the one hand, and protests on the other, current studies of citizenship and illegalized migration describe two main forms of political subjectivities among illegalized migrants: ‘without’ the state or ‘against’ it. In contrast, this article unpacks how migrants make use of state laws and institutions, voice expectations, and pursue their claims using official venues – in short, how they act ‘with’ the state. It builds on ethnographic fieldwork on illegalized migrants’ welfare requests in French-speaking Belgium and the various sets of actors involved in assessing or furthering their cases. Migrants’ discourses and expectations of the welfare office provide insights into their understandings of the state, highlight the crucial role of immigration lawyers in brokering cases, and ultimately allow for a more nuanced reading of the idea that welfare dependency leads to deportability. On a theoretical level, this article contributes to ongoing debates both in the study of statehood and in migration studies, showing how procedural fairness can be a central aspect of – in this case – migrants’ relationship to and expectations of the state, and how migrants’ strategies and practices of inclusion can also be formal ones, based on existing state laws and institutions.

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