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The ‘street politics’ of migrant il/legality: Navigating Malaysia's urban borderscape

Journal article
Authors Anja K. Franck
Published in Asia Pacific Viewpoint
Volume 60
Issue 1
Pages 14-23
ISSN 1360-7456
Publication year 2019
Published at School of Global Studies, Peace and Development Research
School of Global Studies
Pages 14-23
Language en
Keywords il/legality, immigration policing, Malaysia, migrant agency, urban borderscape
Subject categories Peace and development research, International Migration and Ethnic Relations, Social and Economic Geography


Immigration control constitutes a particular technique for regulating urban space and for controlling and disciplining migrant subjects within it. Unlike other manifestations of state power in exemplary urban settings, the architecture of urban immigration control is not recognisable through grand buildings or walls, but rather through its momentary presence and continuously shifting location: ad hoc identity controls in public spaces, roadblocks in neighbourhood streets or raids against workplaces. Building on fieldwork conducted in the Malaysian city of George Town, this article takes an interest in how migrants navigate this urban borderscape in order to avoid exploitation and encounters with the police. Read through Asef Bayat’s notion of ‘street politics’, the article shows how migrants use the means (made) available to them in order to extend their room to manoeuvre. While such tactics are often driven by the force of necessity, they do nonetheless cumulatively encroach on the state’s ability to produce migrants as (un)wanted or even (il)legal subjects in the city. Through this, migrants also challenge the very notion of what an exemplary urban space is as well as who is considered a legitimate part of it.

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