Migration Authorities, Deportations, Emotion and Affect, Authoritarianism.
On the permeability and cementation of national borders in German deportation bureaucracies
This research examines the normative, emotional and moral aspects involved in deportation work in migration authorities in Germany. Both in the approval or refusal of asylum as well as in the organisation and effectuation of deportation come different and often contradictory moral conceptions to light. These contradictions can be experienced as emotional conflicts by employees inside migration authorities. Bound by organisational processes and department-specific instructions, immigration officials ought to make decisions against their personal convictions at times. Next to an – often assumed – indifference, emotions such as compassion, powerlessness or anger are considered an integral part of street-level bureaucrats daily work. Furthermore, feelings of aversion regarding particular individual requirements or the feeling of satisfaction in light of problematic decisions, which are nevertheless experienced as just, can be understood as internalised authoritarian norms.
This research project considers such emotions not as singularities, but assumes them to be related to distinct normative orders and social expectations, serving as frames of reference. Employees of migration authorities work at the interface between a state and a society they are part of themselves. Hence, in their professional practice, they do not only represent state structures but embody them, potentially causing frictions between values anchored in different normative frames of reference. Based on conflicts experienced in moments of interaction by immigration officials, ethnographic research is to be carried out into the extent that authoritarian dispositions are anchored in decisions about rights to protection and residence.
Immigration officials often have to deal with contradicting conceptualisations of protection, need and justice, while making decisions about rights to social participation – sometimes about life itself. Exploring employees emotions experienced in particular moments of interaction and how these influence or change their actions and self-perception, can offer new insights into this ethically challenging administrative practice. An ethnographic investigation of immigration officials emotional dilemmas offers, in addition to sociologically oriented research, an updated and contemporary sociopolitical inside view, which illuminates how exclusionary state structures are not only uphold and strengthened, but questioned and undermined.