Illegal Migration: What Can We Know and What Can We Explain?

This article analyzes types of illegal immigration, particularly smuggling networks. Though the article emphasizes German illegal immigration it remains highly methodological in its approach. Heckmann begins with two anecdotes of illegal migration into Germany. Their purpose is to distinguish immigrants who can enter legally without such documentation and then remain undetected and illegally and smuggling efforts which serve immigrants who would otherwise need visas to enter Germany. To explain migrants’ desire to enter Germany he mentions the desire to work in a “shadow economy” in Germany but does not explain what makes these jobs so profitable. Considering their illegal status, what makes these jobs more lucrative than legal jobs in a migrant’s country of origin? Eastern Europe’s rising economies suggest that immigration for illegal jobs is not as necessary as it was five or ten years ago. Other states in Europe now offer amnesty to illegal immigrants and this pseudo-legal method of migration has become increasingly popular regardless of immediate job opportunities. This does not apply to Germany however, where amnesty is not granted to illegals. Therefore, smuggling efforts have become more prominent. Regardless of the scenario, Heckmann points out that these small-scale operations are truly representative of illegal migration. He claims that modern smuggling operations are not the multinational enterprises that people believe exist.

Heckmann outlines various sources of data collection to help identify a bare minimum of illegal migrants in Germany. Primarily this information gets gathered from Border Control statistics of apprehended illegal crossings into Germany, asylum and church sanctuary statistics of “successful” crossings, and numbers of criminal offenders who are discovered without legal status. The latter two mark a bottom line of illegal residents in Germany. These numbers indicate that illegal immigration rose in the early nineties and then declined and plateaued in the mid to late nineties. No explanation is given however for what causes this decrease in illegal migration. Heckmann gives no indication of increased border controls or less interest in migration into Germany caused this change.

Finally, Heckmann presents four accounts of various structures of illegal immigrants, three of them small and interpersonal working between Eastern Europe and Germany while one presents a large-scale operation in China. In terms of Germany, the most relevant networks are characterized by mutual economic interest, ethnic homogeneity, and obligations of solidarity. He also distinguishes between networks of “negativer Verbundenheit” and “positiver Verbundenheit”, networks that are run solely for profit and ones characterized by “prestige, mutual sympathy, trust and help.” Within this segment of the article, Heckmann’s very objective approach to smuggling appears more sympathetic towards the latter. His characterizations, though factual, of negativer Verbundenheiten seem to offer an excuse for positive Verbundenheiten, justifying their form of illegal immigration. His examples of the latter Verbundenheiten include the smuggling of Jews out of Nazi Germany and the flight of East Germans to the West. But neither properly characterizes the contemporary situation. In terms of German immigration, these people were leaving not entering. Furthermore, they were being openly welcomed in the countries they fled to to escape persecution, particularly the Jews. This idea of welcome does not exist with modern illegal immigrants who primarily migrate for economic purposes.

Heckmann’s article, due to its methodological approach, lacks some of the detail necessary to understand the entire illegal migration concept. It does not discuss causes or motivations behind illegal migration. Therefore, while it elaborates effectively on the process itself, many questions the article raises are left unanswered. With the exception of the anecdotes, a lack of statistical data further weakens many of the points made and leaves some of the relevance to Germany unclear. Nevertheless, Heckmann offers a solid base for understanding smuggling networks.

by Inga Keller

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