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The criminalization of migration has, over the last decade, gained unprecedented focus in migration, criminology and socio-legal literature. Recently, there have been some developments critically revisiting the criminalization thesis, particularly with reference to the European experiences: criminal law might exist ‘on the books’ but quite often it is not actually enforced in immigration practice. Therefore, whilst the incorporation of criminal law into the immigration domain serves mainly symbolic functions to demonstrate a government’s firm grip over immigration control, it also legitimizes a discourse presenting migrants as potential criminals, cheats and abusers. This begs the following question: how do migrants respond to this increasing conflation between criminal and immigration domains in the wider social context? How are the official and public discourses over ‘crimmigrant bodies’ reflected in migrants’ everyday life experiences? Do migrants resist, reproduce or redefine this criminal labelling? I grapple with these questions while qualitatively investigating the experiences of 270 return migrants from four European countries (Norway, Netherlands, the UK and Portugal): migrants’ responses to the stigmatizing force of symbolic criminalisation do not always mean resistance, but, quite often, are placed on a continuum between the contestation and the reproduction of the stigma and the hegemony of the law.

More information


Journal article


Crime, Law and Social Change

Publication Date



62 (2)


91 - 111

Total pages