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Seeking Asylum

Human Smuggling and Bureaucracy at the Border

Alison Mountz

Publication Year: 2010

In July 1999, Canadian authorities intercepted four boats off the coast of British Columbia carrying nearly six hundred Chinese citizens who were being smuggled into Canada. Government officials held the migrants on a Canadian naval base, which it designated a port of entry. As one official later recounted to the author, the Chinese migrants entered a legal limbo, treated as though they were walking through a long tunnel of bureaucracy to reach Canadian soil.
The “long tunnel thesis” is the basis of Alison Mountz’s wide-ranging investigation into the power of states to change the relationship between geography and law as they negotiate border crossings. Mountz draws from many sources to argue that refugee-receiving states capitalize on crises generated by high-profile human smuggling events to implement restrictive measures designed to regulate migration. Whether states view themselves as powerful actors who can successfully exclude outsiders or as vulnerable actors in need of stronger policies to repel potential threats, they end up subverting access to human rights, altering laws, and extending power beyond their own borders.
Using examples from Canada, Australia, and the United States, Mountz demonstrates the centrality of space and place in efforts to control the fate of unwanted migrants.

Published by: University of Minnesota Press

Title Page, Copyright, Quote

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-9

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pp. ix-x

This book would not have been possible without the support of many people in many places: British Columbia, Ottawa, Hong Kong, New York, New Jersey, Mexico, El Salvador, and Australia. It is risky to open oneself to reflective discussions about life and work, and I am humbled by the generosity of people in the field who provided insight and became friends as much as participants in...


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pp. xi-xii

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INTRODUCTION: Struggles to Land in States of Migration

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pp. xiii-35

On July 20, 1999, off the coast of British Columbia, Canadian authorities intercepted what would be the fi rst of four boats to arrive during a period of six weeks with a total of 599 tired and hungry women, men, and children on board. The Yuan Yee carried 123 people from the coastal province of Fujian, China. They were estimated to have been at sea for approximately thirty-...

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1. Human Smuggling and Refugee Protection

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pp. 1-22

In January 1999 employees of Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) at regional headquarters (RHQ) in Vancouver held tabletop simulation exercises to develop an operational response to a potential marine ar-rival of smuggled migrants off the western coast of Canada. In June, five months later, they led governmental partners through exercises on the ...

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2. Seeing Borders Like a State

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pp. 23-54

This chapter engages principles of vision and visual registers to aid in understanding how states see borders and how they deploy visuality as an affective register through which sovereignty is secured (see Amoore 2007).1 The state sets its sights on transnational migrations, and ultimately becomes transnational by enacting enforcement practices along borders. ...

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3. Ethnography of the State

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pp. 55-92

I began research in 2000 , during the summer following the interceptions, when everyone in the office anticipated the arrival of more boats. The months following the marine arrivals were a tumultuous time; they offered an opportunity to explore the operation of paradoxical narratives of the state as powerful and vulnerable during times of crisis. This chapter ...

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4. Crisis and the Making of the Bogus Refugee

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pp. 93-120

On the sixteenth floor of the towering Library Square office building in downtown Vancouver sit two senior male members of the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB); a refugee claimant in her twenties from the second boat intercepted from Fujian; her legal counsel; an interpreter; the Refugee Protection Officer; a representative for the Minister of Citizenship ...

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5. Stateless by Geographical Design

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pp. 121-146

Chapter 3 examined the bureaucracy, one node in a transnational network where civil servants manage migration. Chapter 4 explored the intricacies of access to the refugee determination process once people had landed on sovereign territory. This chapter moves farther out still from the center to dwell in off shore zones that render migrants stateless by geographi-...

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6. In the Shadows of the State

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pp. 147-166

This book began inside the bureaucracy, but has moved gradually away from the office tower to the border and beyond, to extraterritorial sites This circular trajectory corresponds with my own research program that brought me into ever-closer encounters with the state. My work with undocumented Mexican migrants began with those who had recently ...

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7. What Kind of State Are We In?

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pp. 167-176

This book has explored the relationship between discourse and practice, between the production of mobile subjectivities—the smuggled, the refugee, the spontaneous arrival, the detainee—and their abjection. ...


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pp. 177-186


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pp. 187-204


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pp. 205-208

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About the Author

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pp. 209-244

A L I S O N M O U N T Z is associate professor of geography at Syracuse University. She is 2009–2010 William Lyon Mackenzie King Research Fel-low with the Canada Program at Harvard University. Her latest research ex-amines island detention centers off the shores of North America, Australia, and the European Union and is funded by a CAREER grant from the Na-...

E-ISBN-13: 9780816673575
E-ISBN-10: 0816673578
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816665389

Page Count: 264
Publication Year: 2010