Global ‘Undocumentedness’

Kavitha Rajagopalan
May 04, 2015

There are more international migrants today than at any other time in history, and at the same time, the globalization of supply chains and financial systems has spawned vast and once-unimagined networks of transit, communication, and distribution. This means people are moving in ways that are not always captured in accepted international migration statistics and to countries that are ill-equipped to develop or implement a national immigration policy. The confluence of these factors has contributed to a globalization of ‘undocumentedness,’ and yet, the global conversation about undocumentedness still orients itself to the United States and Europe. A quick survey of extant literature on undocumentedness, international migration, and informal labor points to a significant gap in scholarship on the causes and consequences of permanent and growing cross-border undocumented migration between developing countries, and as a global phenomenon. Research on undocumented immigrant communities in the West frequently focuses on social justice or national security concerns in a single place with a large undocumented population, rather than placing the emergence of those communities within the broader context of how international migration has changed. For example, undocumented migrants in the West are likely to have been undocumented migrants in developing or middle-income countries as well. Migrant networks often span many countries at once. This article will position undocumentedness as a global phenomenon, examining how economic globalization has contributed to a globalization of low- to middle-income migration to regional powers with limited-to-no migration management strategy or infrastructure. It will also consider some of the challenges undocumented migration poses in countries dealing with endemic poverty, massive internal migration, and structural race/caste/tribal fissures. Finally, it will consider what citizenship and belonging mean in this new global era.