Migration Control in the North Atlantic World: The Evolution of State Practices in Europe and the United States from the French Revolution to the Inter-War Period

By Andreas Fahrmeir; Olivier Faron et al. | Go to book overview

Introduction

Andreas Fahrmeir, Olivier Faron and Patrick Weil

International public opinion has recently been traumatised by the horrific death of almost sixty Chinese migrants in the back of a lorry headed for Britain. This example demonstrates that, even in an apparently close-knit community like the European Union, there exist different national systems of migration control which encourage migrants to continue their journey at great personal risk to reach a country they consider either more welcoming or less closely regimented. Studying the origins of such systems of migration control is an important task. The question of whether or not it is possible to identify different systems of migration control with deep historical roots is one that deserves detailed study. This is all the more true as, in a historical context, systems of migration control have been identified much more frequently within states (poor relief systems and the control of vagrancy, for example) than at their borders. Yet, it is at frontiers, both at those between territories and the more intangible ones between citizens and foreigners, that essential conditions for the movement of individuals and of populations were laid down.

The nineteenth century has always been considered a key period in the creation of nation-states. However, as far as the study of migration is concerned, there is a central paradox. The various processes through which the emerging nation-states gained increasing control over their population and territory have been traced in some detail. It has also been noted that the nineteenth century was an age of substantial and increasing migration over both short and long distances. But, until very recently, migration historians have been concerned above all with establishing the facts of migration movements. This has caused them to concentrate on the quantitative and qualitative aspects of migration and to neglect the question of migration control. The nineteenth century has thus appeared — implicitly rather than explicitly — as an age of minimal state intervention in crossborder migration. It appeared that largely unrestricted freedom of movement was the norm throughout much of Western Europe at least during the second half of the nineteenth century, and that ethnic and cultural criteria should thus be paramount when

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