This essay tells the story of how Denmark transformed from a very welcoming and tolerant country to one whose prime ministers reassure its residents, “We have the strictest Alien Act possible.” The approach is genealogical, following Michel Foucault, and the empirical focal point is Danish immigration policies as they evolved from the late 1960s until today. This development culminates in the emergence of the “restrictionist policy paradigm,” which associates immigrants with risks like economic burdens, high unemployment levels, crimes, undemocratic attitudes, and the development of ghettos. From the perspective of the welfare project, the immigrants became “risky” as they were profiled in terms of their higher probability of developing suboptimal or dysfunctional behaviors that endanger the welfare state. The Danish experience is analyzed from a broader thesis on the welfare state as caught up between welfarist universality, industrial-capitalist expansion, and sovereign territoriality. Drawing on Foucault’s work, these different logics of statehood are analyzed as evolving constellations of law, discipline, and security. Danish immigration policy mutates over time so that policies of security premised on free circulation gradually give way to discipline and legal sovereignty that block, filter, and segregate immigrants. Alongside this movement toward territorial enclosure, the discursive construction of the immigrant changes fundamentally.
People who arrive at the borders of the United States and European countries without a visa or the right to entrance are variously termed “illegal immigrants,” “irregular immigrants,” or even “unwanted immigrants.” Those immigrants who are granted residency based on family reunification or their status as refugees are sometimes described as “risky,” signaling that they carry various potential hazards for the receiving country. Corresponding to this notion of risk are recent metaphors that express the need to protect ourselves from immigrants: the “war” or “fight” against immigration; the building of “Fortress” Europe; the interception of “immigration routes”; “flanking measures”; “frontline states”; and the idea of prioritizing assistance to distant “buffer zones” and “safe countries.” To be sure, risky immigrants are the subject of intense public discussion across the affluent parts of the world.
The Scandinavian countries have long been considered vanguards in terms of defending human rights and respecting international treaties that secure refugees and immigrants their fundamental rights. During the last three decades, however, the political climate has changed drastically: support for nationalist parties has grown across Scandinavia, and governments have implemented increasingly strict immigration laws. The recent Danish debate has revolved around these types of questions: How many immigrants can the country absorb? Which kind of refugee is Denmark obliged to receive according to UN declarations? Should immigrants and refugees have access to education, health care, and the labor market, and, if so, how soon? Is it better to “assist” refugees and immigrants in distant “safe zones” (so that they do not appear at the Danish border)? How about placing the unwanted immigrants on an isolated island to incentivize them to go back home? This latter idea is applied to those who have committed offenses or refuse to leave Denmark although they have been denied a residence permit. During electoral campaigns, prime ministers routinely reassure the Danes, “We have the strictest immigration laws possible!”
In this essay I take a step back from these heated issues and rather disturbing developments to pose a more fundamental question: How is “the problem” of risky immigrants produced in the first place? There is already a relatively large literature on immigrants’ diverse motivations and adaptation strategies, on the EU political alliances around immigration that have resulted in “a Fortress Europe,” on the constitutive features of societies that are “successful” in integrating immigrants, and on immigrants’ labor market participation in European countries, and there is a growing research stream on immigrants’ access to health care and education.1 The above research has offered important and critical contributions to the field. But my analysis is situated on another level: I consider the broader historical rationalities that have given shape to policies in the Danish context, making possible the emergence of “risky immigrants” as part of the recent “restrictionist policy paradigm” across Europe.2
Here I follow a methodological principle advanced by Foucault in support of his genealogical approach. Foucault said that he pursued a method that entailed “going behind the institution,” such as the prison, the hospital, or the clinic, trying to recover the strategies of power that the institution crystallizes.3 I will apply this principle to the contemporary Danish immigration regime, exploring the historical conditions of possibility for its institutionalization. I trace significant discursive changes in the Danish policies, over the last forty to fifty years, that turned “the risky immigrant” into a major political and administrative problem. The analysis tells the story of how Denmark transformed from an extraordinarily welcoming and tolerant country to a place where prime ministers make statements like “We are testing the UN declarations in order to control migration to Denmark.”
The essay is divided into two parts. The first presents a framework for analyzing the broader governmental rationalities out of which objects like “risky immigrants” can emerge in modern welfare states. These rationalities include the welfarist promise of universal social rights and formal equality, the liberal-economic imperative of free circulation, and the resurgence of sovereign power spurred by a recent political nationalism centered on blood, soil, people, and cultural heritage. The second part presents an analysis of Danish immigration policies as they have evolved during the last four decades, culminating in an effective near closure of the Danish state to unwanted immigrants. My aim is not merely to provide knowledge of the specific Danish case but to situate the study in the context of the much broader debate on the modern welfare state, its responsibilities toward individuals residing inside and outside its borders, and what seems to be an evacuation of long-standing universal values regarding social and civil rights and the equality of human worth irrespective of religion, race, and nationality.
The Modern State: Between Universality and Particularity
The phenomenon of people crossing borders to pursue the benefits offered by industrial-capitalist economies can be situated in a long historical perspective. Twentieth-century political philosophy has often located the modern state and the push toward the creation of statehood on a continuum between universalism and particularism.4 Universal values are articulated in human rights treaties, international law, and principles for free global market exchanges, whereas particular values are anchored in sovereign states, political ideologies, and cultural, ethnic, and religious communities. The modern quest to establish general human values, rights, or universal solidarities has been increasingly undercut by particularistic movements arguing that the aspirational universal principles are inappropriate, culturally biased, or foreign to the deep-rooted identity of nations or communities.
In the mid-twentieth century Hannah Arendt saw the conflict between universality and particularism as integral to the modern nation-state from its very beginning: “A secret conflict between state and nation came to light at the very birth of the modern nation-state, when the French Revolution combined the declaration of the Rights of Man with the demand for national sovereignty.”5 While the revolutionaries proclaimed the universality of human rights as the legitimating foundation of the state, they still saw the sovereign nation-state as the vehicle for protecting these rights. Linking rights to the particular nation and nationality in effect undermined their universality. Arendt emphasized the contradiction between universal human rights and the exercise of power based on national sovereignty. She made the argument, highly relevant for the contemporary situation, that “the modern idea of the nation-state rests on a fundamental contradiction between the ‘openness’ of the state . . . through enforcing the rule of law and the exclusivity of the nation as a closed community whose solidarity is based on shared characteristics of genealogy, history and culture.”6 In this way, Arendt vividly described the tension that emerged between the state as a law-governed, “open” entity and the state as identified by a particular community, ethnicity, or “people.”
From the perspective of economic globalization, twentieth-century welfare states were shaped as both capitalist-expansive and territorially enclosed. The forces of globalization, in terms of growing exchanges of capital, goods, information, and labor, made possible the development of affluent welfare states while disrupting national enclosure and the restrictions on movement. Recently, Étienne Balibar has argued that Europe has reached a historical point where global network patterns are reconfiguring the spatiality of the member states as well as the European Union itself. One can think of this situation as one in which circulation (of people, ideas, commodities, capital, information) takes precedence over all processes that are bound within territories, including production, consumption, and the workings of state institutions. This development, notes Balibar, does not render the notion of boundaries meaningless, but it transforms their function, detaching them from sovereignty.7 The twentieth century has witnessed a dismantling of the borders of the European states due to the creation of new supranational borders, like the European Union, as well as the ongoing transformation of the traditional administrative functions of national borders, “some being steadily reinforced (particularly the police function, controlling the flows of immigrants, etc.), others being weakened and separated from the borderline (e.g. the monetary independence, the fiscal control). As a consequence, the constitutive relationship between territory, population and sovereignty is no longer taken for granted” (eb, 193). Contradictions between the sovereign state and the control of its borders, on the one hand, and, on the other, the processes of circulation, whether planned or simply generated by the forces of globalization, are often visible in the technical design of infrastructure. Hence, within the European Union the trans-European routeways have been improved and opened up as a tool to better integrate Europe by facilitating transport and trade.8 However, in recent decades this same infrastructure has been identified as a network of uncontrolled, unwanted migration, and measures of surveillance and arrest have been inserted into these routes. Hence, one may speak of the emergence of a new EU project, one of trans-European networks of filtering and control.9
For example, in 2000 a new bridge opened between Sweden (Malmö) and Denmark (Copenhagen) with the aim of creating a more vibrant Øresund region by facilitating unhindered movement of goods and people across the Øresund strait. However, the “refugee crises” in 2015 brought an unprecedented arrival of refugees and migrants, primarily from Syria, Afghanistan, and Eritrea, who walked along the Danish highways and then crossed the bridge to seek asylum in Sweden. Responding to this situation, the Swedish authorities implemented border control at the departure train station in Copenhagen and at arrival stations in Sweden. The travel time increased considerably, and the routeway for greater circulation became more akin to a network of control. Overall, then, the phenomenon of irregular waves of migration and the problem of how to respond to them are closely related to the contradiction between the capitalist logic of free circulation and the sovereign-national logic, which restricts access to a territory and social entitlements according to citizenship. Globalization has spurred increased supranational mobility, but recently it has also prompted the fortification of national borders.
Security, Territory, Population
The contradictory ideals and forces that pervade the modern nation-state can be rendered intelligible by consulting Foucault’s analysis of governmental power in its different modalities. Particularly pertinent are Foucault’s first lectures in the series Security, Territory, Population from 1978. His genealogical analysis suggests that three major rationalities of power were essential for the emergence of modern state governance: sovereign law, disciplinary mechanisms, and security regulation (stp, 5–24). Law, discipline, and security appear, as it were, as key coordinates around which modern statehood emerged and still revolves. To risk gross oversimplification, Foucault said that “sovereignty is exercised within the borders of a territory, discipline is exercised on the bodies of individuals, and security is exercised over a whole population” (stp, 11). Foucault analyzes discussions in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century France regarding problems of governing cities, including how to reduce crime, control illnesses, regulate traffic, and secure the supply of grain. Foucault argued that at that time the debates on city governance broke with the earlier strategy of spatial, juridical, and administrative enclosure, since a key concern became how to open the cities up to wider circulation.10 Whereas defending territorial enclosures was emblematic for the feudal city-states and continued to be important under mercantilism, early liberal economists viewed strict borders as detrimental to free trade. A key challenge, however, was how to keep the towns open for the circulation of goods and individuals, while “minimizing what is risky and inconvenient,” like the spread of diseases or the presence of unwanted individuals (stp, 19). Foucault then demonstrates that the answers to such problems diverged greatly depending whether the perspective was law, discipline, or security. The competing solutions offered by law, discipline, and security resonate strongly with complex and hard-to-solve governmental issues of the present, especially our problem here, the emergence of the “risky immigrant.”
In brief, the three rationalities can be distinguished as follows: the law operates a binary distinction between the legal and the illegal, making possible a coupling “between a type of prohibited action and a type of punishment” (stp, 5). The execution of state sovereignty depends on a legal rationality that distinguishes between legal and illegal permanency and border crossing. Legal sovereignty takes as its key aim the defense of the nation’s external borders, keeping the territory shielded from unregulated and illegal movements across the border. Today, the exercise of sovereignty on border crossers is not only carried out by the police and military but also increasingly delegated to diverse nongovernmental agents, like private security firms and airline personnel.
While the law effectuates sanctions to violations, discipline aspires to prevent unwanted behavior from happening at all by correcting bodies and processes toward a state of perfection (stp, 21). The means of discipline are diverse forms of examination, comparison, hierarchization, surveillance, and correction. Security diverges from both the legal/illegal binary of law and the disciplinary quest for perfection, since security calculations take reality as a given, considering how to optimize processes already operative in this reality. Instead of aiming to sanction all illegal acts or entirely eliminate deviant behavior, the problem of security is one of maintaining acceptable levels of, for example, crime or diseases, “while knowing that they will never be completely suppressed” (stp, 19). Securitization is a matter of inserting thefts, grain production, or immigrants into a series of likely future events to predict probabilities and account for possible risks.
Security breaks fundamentally with legal sovereignty, since its main concern is not territorial integrity but issues concerning the vitality of populations, such as public hygiene, procreation, productivity, and trade. It is a matter of facilitating the autonomous processes of human life, which are not easily containable within a nation’s borders.11 From the perspective of security, governmental actions that exert sovereignty by binding citizens to a territory may be at odds with the aim of facilitating the vitality of populations. This premise does not mean that the population should be left to its own unimpeded development, or that governments should simply allow any transnational human circulation to take place. Rather, governmental interventions are justifiable if they seek to optimize life processes, if they guide biological and social processes so that they unfold to their optimal potential.12 The modern state, then, is one that integrates, in a single structure, the institutions of sovereign power, distinct territorial borders, and securitization of the population’s life processes. Foucault described modern state reason as “the superimposition of the state of sovereignty, the territorial state, and the commercial state” (stp, 15). As Balibar observes, the modern state relies both on the sovereign (restrictive) control of the population on the territory and the (productive) governance of the population through differentiation and surveillance of the territory (eb, 192).
I have suggested elsewhere that Foucault’s suggestive framework for studying governmental power can be used to illuminate the thorny dilemmas that presently challenge the EU project.13 These issues include how to react to huge budgetary deficits generated in certain member states, or how to take a common stance on unprecedented waves of migrants crossing the external EU borders. In regard to such difficult questions, it seems impossible to agree on whether the solution is binding legal agreements, disciplinary measures, or security regulation, or where the exact balance between these heterogeneous interventions should be struck. This framework might also elucidate why refugees and migrants may simultaneously appear as vulnerable and criminals, constituting both a resource and a threat.14
Currently, European governments seek to effectively insulate their territories or intercept asylum seekers outside the border, before they can voice human rights claims within the territory. Alongside the development of new and more extensive military and police measures at the borders, efforts are made to accelerate circuits of transnational trade, tourism, and the movement of skilled labor, which includes “fast tracks,” free-mover arrangements, and the decongestion of border crossings in the interests of efficiency and liberalization.15 This contradiction spurs new innovations to close off the borders from undesired population flows that can be reconciled with the quest for securing “controlled openness” in semipermeable borders. In the next section I turn to the Danish context to explore the policy changes that ensued from the discovery of risky immigrants.
Beneficial Circulation of “Guest Workers”
Since the early 1970s, Danish immigration policies have undergone a rather dramatic transformation. The laws regulating foreigners’ access to the Danish labor market and social rights have been tightened time and time again during the last five decades. These changes have broadly targeted the influx of foreign labor power, asylum seekers, and individuals seeking unification with family members in Denmark. Only a few “loopholes” have been left open for the recruitment of highly skilled labor, specific work visas, au pairs, and international students. Against this backdrop, it would seem that a resurrection of territorial sovereignty has replaced or pushed into the background the rationality of security. I begin my survey of that process by tracing policy development since the early 1970s. This involves recovering the key questions, reasoning, and solutions that have been advanced to inform the government of migration and refugees. It falls beyond the scope of this essay to reconstruct the complete history of these evolving policies; hence the following brief analysis describes selected, decisive moments, without claiming completeness or final saturation of the archive.
In 1969 a committee was established under the Ministry of Labor and assigned the task of assessing the need to attract foreign labor to Denmark. In the preceding years, the demand for labor power had been increasing due to high growth rates in industrial production. From 1967 onward this situation made it possible to recruit foreign workers to fill the vacant slots on the Danish labor market, under the assumption that they would remain in Denmark only for a limited period of extraordinary industrial demand. For this reason, these workers, most of whom came from Turkey, Yugoslavia, and Pakistan, were suggestively termed “guest workers” or “alien workers.” The committee published its report in 1971, concluding that the influx of foreign workers was “desirable”: “Recently, the number of foreign workers in Denmark has increased greatly. Most of the foreigners work in industries that have been unable to find Danish labor power, and hence the foreign workers’ efforts must be viewed as desirable.”16 Nevertheless, even at this point there were questions about the possible costs and challenges of bringing foreign workers to Denmark. Hence the Ministry of Labor defined one of the committee’s key purposes thus: “To give an assessment of the need for foreign labor power in the Danish labor market and to weigh the benefits and disadvantages of receiving foreign workers, including the costs to society of employing foreign workers and the value that the foreign workers bring to Danish society” (fwc, 7). The committee also discussed whether the foreign workers should be considered immigrants who intended to settle in Denmark with their families and adapt themselves to society, or whether there were indeed guest workers coming for short-term employment with the purpose of earning money for some purpose in their home country (fwc, 27). At the time of writing, committee members could not yet conclude that the great majority of the foreign workers would end up settling in Denmark for good. The committee argued that irrespective of how long the foreign workers stayed in the country, there was a need to make sure that they had proper conditions at their jobs and with respect to housing. Cases were reported regarding unfair practices in the labor market and unfair rent levels, and the committee saw the need to establish regulations that could protect foreign workers against such exploitation: “According to available information, many people have taken up work in this country without adhering to pertinent laws; foreign workers have in many cases been exploited at the labor market and at the housing market. Lack of knowledge of the Danish language and Danish conditions, leading to difficulties in regard to contact, may cause foreigners to feel excluded from the Danish society” (fwc, 18). The influx of growing numbers of foreign workers was an unprecedented situation, and the committee noted that the development might both have positive effects in terms of “new impulses” and generate tensions between the original Danish population and the newcomers: “In Denmark there is no tradition for recruiting labor power from countries that diverge considerably from Denmark with regard to culture, language and habits. On the one hand, this can spur tensions in the population, and on the other hand, it may bring new impulses to the population” (fwc, 44). These early 1970s discussions tended to revolve around weighing “advantages” against “disadvantages,” or balancing “benefits” against “costs” when considering the influx of foreign workers to Denmark. The issue was discussed in Parliament, and different viewpoints were voiced across the political spectrum. Parties on the left were concerned that the foreign workers would put salaries under pressure and that cheap foreign labor would reduce the industry’s motivation to find national solutions to the shortage of labor by, for example, investing in new technology and inciting more women to join the labor force. Parties on the right emphasized that the guest workers should merely be a temporary solution to labor shortage and bottleneck problems in the industry, and they argued for the provisional use of flexible recruitment regulations. However, all parties agreed that free and “unplanned” immigration should never exist and that the immigration that could be agreed on should take place under controlled circumstances.17
The debates regarding immigration in the early 1970s were premised on the optimistic idea that industrial-economic processes were fundamentally underpinning the project of welfare planning and just needed a bit of guidance. The reflections broadly resonate with the description of “security regulation,” with regard to a social reality of “circulation,” from the principle of “maximizing the positive elements, for which one provides the best possible circulation, and of minimizing what is risky and inconvenient” (stp, 19). It is hence notable that the political-administrative discussions did not consider intervening to block the influx of guest workers, “the circulation”; instead, they focused on how to minimize the risks and potential problems. One such risk mentioned by the committee is that Danish citizens might feel insecure about the inflow of foreign labor and begin to take a negative attitude toward the newcomers. The report suggested that informing the Danish citizens about the guest workers’ background, culture, and traditions might be “a means to reduce the possible insecurities that the population may have regarding the effects of an increased influx of foreign labor” (fwc, 35). How to minimize the “insecurities,” “risks,” “costs,” or “disadvantages” entailed in the circulation of labor required for continued industrial growth was the recurring question in the early 1970s.
Let us recall that Foucault defined governmentality as constituted by the tripartite rationalities of sovereignty, discipline, and the security of the population (stp, 108). His analysis also indicated that, since the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, security had been coming to the forefront of governmental reasoning. In the Danish context analyzed above, the governmental emphasis could be said to further shift from the sovereign issue of territoriality to securing the population, that is, to expanding institutions concerned with the people’s health, wealth, and happiness. On Foucault’s account, the “governmentalization” of the state meant that the control of territorial space no longer had the same centrality, insofar as it was only one of the elements affecting the security of the population (stp, 295). This situation was soon to change, however.
The Discovery of Guest Workers as “Risky”
In 1973 the number of guest workers in Denmark reached about twelve thousand. But the economic and industrial boom had come to a pause, resulting in growing unemployment, and that same year a law was passed to stop the recruitment of foreign workers, at least until demand for labor picked up again. In 1973 the Ministry of Social Affairs also established a working group that took up the same questions regarding foreign workers’ conditions addressed by the 1969 committee, with the purpose of assessing whether further measures were needed. In 1975 the working group published its report, Report on Foreign Workers’ Social and Societal Adaptation Here in the Country. In this text, one key concern stands in notable contrast to present-day discussions on migration in Denmark: the question of how to secure for foreign workers the same living conditions and social rights as Danish citizens. This attention to the newcomers’ living conditions involved not only their employment relations but also their access to health, education, and social services. The committee asserted that education in the Danish language and Danish society was needed to make sure that “this vulnerable group of citizens is not placed in a more difficult position than the rest of the citizens in regard to living and working conditions, the use of social and health services, and educational and teaching offerings in this country.”18 Considering what should be the appropriate content of the teaching curriculum for the foreign workers, the committee suggested that “the main focus should be themes that present the Danish society in light of the needs of foreign workers and their families, as they appear in their daily life, so that they, right after settling in Denmark, become capable of functioning independently in society to the largest possible extent” (fwssa, 48). Two things are noteworthy in this quote. First, the recommendation takes the foreigners’ needs as the point of departure for efforts to improve their knowledge of the Danish society (almost the exact opposite of the more recent political demands that immigrants should uniformly appropriate Danish values). Second, the aspiration that foreigners should become full members of society right after settling in Denmark contrasts markedly with the current “long and winding road” to citizenship. Today the process of getting full Danish citizenship takes a minimum of seven years, and it involves several periods of short-term permission, filling out applications, and demonstrating efforts to appropriate Danish language and cultural norms by taking mandatory tests.
A major difference between the work-related migration to Denmark in the 1970s and the migration during the last three decades is, of course, the shift to the categories of asylum seekers, refugees, and applicants for family unification. The category of guest workers made it possible to argue that since the newcomers contributed to the welfare state via income taxes, they should enjoy full civil and social rights.19 The Working Group reasoned that foreigners, “like Danish citizens[,] contribute to financing the Danish societal machinery through tax payment [and] should also have the possibility to vote and thus participate in the decision-making process which determines in which way and to which extent government revenue will be used” (fwssa, 27).
The optimistic and inclusionary approach in the above ministerial reports must be situated in the context of the overall political climate in Denmark of the early 1970s, emblematically expressed in the term welfare planning.20 This term appeared in policy documents and social research at the time, broadly emphasizing the state’s responsibility to secure the welfare of its citizens. Recognizing the demands that the fast-paced transformation placed on those citizens, policy makers argued that individuals could hardly be blamed for the occurrence of social problems that constituted “collective risks” of industrial growth. The idea of welfare planning, which reached its high point in the 1960s, was that social problems were by-products of the industrial order and should hence be compensated for by the welfare state. This assignment of state responsibility was underpinned by the assumption of a mutually enforcing link between economic growth and the securing of the population’s social conditions.
Welfare planning also entailed scientific attempts to devise universal definitions of welfare and social dysfunctionality,21 and it was propelled by an overall strategy of integrating all citizens in the welfare state. This involved establishing more welfare institutions, standardizing services across the country, and training more experts. To be sure, being a well-integrated citizen in this welfare society required much more than simply abiding by the rules. As Foucault famously showed in his analysis of discipline, the normalizing power of disciplinary techniques reaches far beyond the law, constituting a “micro-law” or an “infra-law.”22 Insofar as immigrants were granted legal residency, they also became objects of this disciplinary normalization for integration, and as such, the infinitesimal details of their lives could be observed with regard to norms. Indeed, Foucault contrasted the mechanisms of normalization with the law: “Whereas the juridical system defines juridical subjects according to universal norms, the disciplines characterize, classify, specialize; they distribute along a scale, around a norm.”23 Submitting those immigrants who would stay permanently in Denmark to normalizing transformation and integration was considered not merely beneficial but something like a right. In this regard, the rationalities of law and discipline were constituting a mutually supportive relationship.
This ambitious welfare state project was somewhat blind to different life forms, minorities, or subcultures, as Thomas Højrup has argued.24 The universal aspiration of the welfarist growth strategy entailed that cultural and class differences in the population should be overcome, and social policies took as key problems low social mobility and the hereditary transmission of marginalization.25 There was a tendency to identify minorities as “groups at risk” and consider them especially prone to developing social problems. In this context, the idea of “minimizing the risks” that guest workers allegedly faced—and posed to the rest of society—resonated with the political reasoning of the time. Policies to secure guest workers’ living conditions paralleled the general welfarist assumption that the negative consequences of industrial society could be ameliorated if at-risk individuals were identified in good time and measures were taken to prevent the development of serious social problems. Experts at the Danish National Institute of Social Research had, since the late 1960s, considered how to identify citizens who had a higher risk of developing social problems, including “background factors” like socioeconomic status, illness history, addiction, and attachment to the labor market.26 Welfare planning conceived of risks as probabilities held by some citizens of a suboptimal development generated from within the social and economic dynamics of the population. Notably, the early 1970s discussions regarding guest workers in Denmark extended this welfarist strategy of risk prevention to the immigrants and identified them as a new at-risk group. As such, the overall objective of welfare planning regarding integration and normalization of all, including the newcomers, could be said to be guided by an ideal of solidarity. This welfarist ideal of solidarity has, more recently, been overwritten by the basic sovereign imperative of protecting the territory from those on the outside who allegedly carry endemic risks.
Toward the Restrictionist Policy Paradigm
I now leap to the recent Danish policy context of the late 1980s to the early 2000s, in which a series of legal changes were implemented to lower the number of immigrants coming to Denmark. Around 1973 the labor immigration had effectively come to an end because of a change in the Aliens Act of 1972, colloquially termed “the guest worker stop.” Those guest workers who had arrived before the stop were allowed to stay, and the majority did in fact remain in Denmark. From 1974 these people were granted the option of family reunification, which served as a new source of (rather limited) immigration.27 From the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s immigration remained at a low level, dominated by family reunifications among former labor immigrants, predominantly of Turkish origin. During the second half of the 1980s the level of immigration increased again as new waves of refugees arrived, mainly from Poland, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, and Sri Lanka (im, 3). In these years immigrants received more and more blame for the costs they allegedly entailed for the Danish state, their relatively high unemployment level, and statistically higher crime rates. These problems were first articulated by political parties on the right, but they gradually became key electoral themes across the whole political spectrum.
During the 1980s the parliamentary debates revolved around finding measures to manage the higher number of refugees, and politicians proposed tightening the Alien Act of 1983. This Alien Act was later declared the world’s most liberal and humane migration legislation. In 1987, however, mayors from suburban municipalities west of Copenhagen intervened somewhat unexpectedly in the national debate. The municipalities of Ishøj, Høje Tåstrup, and Brøndby Øster had received comparatively high numbers of immigrants, and the mayors reported serious integration problems. Most important, perhaps, the immigrants were increasingly described as responsible for some of these problems. This intervention broke with the general political consensus of the 1970s, which posited that problems of integration arose from a combination of the immigrants’ foreign culture and Danes’ lack of readiness to include the newcomers.28 Now the immigrants were gradually assigned more responsibility for the problems or failures of integration, just as their costs for the municipal budgets were often emphasized. In the policy discourse, then, the immigrant was represented more and more as a burden.
In 1989 a working group under the Ministry of Internal Affairs was established to suggest improvements as part of an attempt to formulate an overall, consistent immigration policy.29 The working group published its report in 1990, and several recommendations were premised on the observation that immigrants did not participate sufficiently in Danish society, particularly the labor market, the education system, and the voluntary associations. Indeed, immigrants were described as “a population group, which in many ways has a weak social position and of which some groups are isolated in relation to Danish society. Many immigrants do poorly on the labor market and in the education system, and they have difficulties understanding the structure and functioning of the Danish society. These facts cannot be ignored” (iid, 15). The report exemplifies a shift in the assignment of responsibility for successful integration: it emphasized that the immigrants did not always manage to take responsibility for participating in civil life by joining voluntary associations and sports clubs (iid, 36, 68). The premise that immigrants should not be forced to lose their own culture while integrating into Danish society was still emphasized. The emphasis also shifted in this regard, however, insofar as the working group asserted that it was “unrealistic” to expect immigrants to maintain an unchanged cultural identity while adopting Danish values: “One may imagine that immigrants can keep both their way of life and their culture unchanged while fully participating in Danish society. This is unrealistic” (iid, 16).
From the early 1990s onward the Danish policy discourse was marked by continuous debates on what should be required for Danish citizenship, and it was increasingly common to link the attainment of rights with cultural identity. Hence politicians would sometimes express a belief that the immigrants needed to adopt “Danish values” or “Danish culture,” typically identified as having a democratic attitude, respecting women’s rights, raising children to become tolerant and active citizens, participating in civil society associations, and so on. Across the political spectrum as well as in administrative texts, integration was increasingly represented as a one-directional process that involved the immigrants’ adopting the Danish language and culture and, perhaps most important, finding a place in the labor market. The idea that immigrants must integrate themselves by shedding their original culture and replacing it with the new country’s culture is not unique to the Danish context, but it was a significant change in the public discourse. These discursive transformations are visible in Alien Act No. 474, passed July 1, 1998, including but not limited to the introduction of mandatory, geographic spreading of refugees (quota allocation of refugees to all Danish municipalities), no free settlement right within the first three years, and a specific welfare benefit for immigrants (“the introductory benefit”) that is lower than the ordinary welfare benefit. A key purpose of the revised Alien Act was to strengthen integration efforts to afford the individual foreigner an understanding of the values and norms of the Danish society. Notably, this law made use of sovereign state power to “distribute” immigrants across the country and to restrict their means of subsistence to force them to find work. Another noteworthy change was that the earlier stipulation regarding respecting immigrants’ cultural background and identity had been eliminated in this revision of the Alien Act.
The issue of naturalization assumed center stage in the political debates during the 1990s, and a key issue in these debates was that more and more immigrants were being granted Danish citizenship and that the majority had Middle Eastern and Muslim backgrounds. Whereas from 1978 to 1990 the average number of persons who attained Danish citizenship annually was three thousand, from 1991 to 2003 the figure was eight thousand.30 This decade was also dominated by a new wave of refugees, mainly from the former Yugoslavia and Somalia (im, 3).
From the mid-1990s on, immigration debates began to revolve around the question of how to institute an effective stop for immigration to Denmark. Danish politicians with a nationalist agenda suggested measures like a redefinition of Denmark’s refugee commitments to UN treaties, the use of temporary permanency for specific groups, and incentives to encourage repatriation, including granting returning migrants a state-sponsored economic “bonus.” In 1995 an amendment to the Alien Act excluded asylum applications from countries and zones that were considered safe, which included the other EU member states (im, 9). In the Alien Act passed on June 6, 2002, the stipulations of the right to residency and the granting of citizenship were tightened in several significant ways, among them the following:
The notion of “de facto” refugees was abolished (§7 sec. 2), and instead the concept of “protection status” was adopted (defining the need for protection). This change meant, inter alia, that war dissidents and political refugees were no longer granted asylum unless it could be ascertained that they risked death penalty, torture, or similar inhumane treatment in their home country.
Stricter regulation of family unification meant that both spouses needed to have reached the age of twenty-four, and their joint attachment must be considered greater to Denmark than to the applicant’s home country. The Danish spouse needed to meet certain demands, including not having received welfare benefits during the previous year.
Permanent residency was granted only after seven years’ permanency in the country, in contrast to the hitherto stipulation of three years’ permanency.
In addition to these restrictions, from the early 1990s onward the Danish parliament began issuing “special refugee laws” granting temporary residency to particular groups who were in need of protection. These laws made it possible to receive larger groups of displaced people without processing each individual case and without breaching the immigration stop, since the premise was that these groups would become repatriated. The first instance was a special law for Palestinians in 1992; in 1995 it was followed by a special law for Bosnian refugees stating that they could not have their cases assessed for several years. In 1999 another special law was issued for people fleeing Kosovo, and since then there have been special laws for refugees from Somalia and Syria.
The Attachment Requirement
A key theme in the debate on immigration was the regulation of family unification. One reason for this focus was that residence permits premised on family unification constituted the largest category of residence permits issued. According to Danish law, family unification is a possibility only for close family members, defined as a spouse or cohabitant partner, children under the age of eighteen, and, in some cases, parents older than sixty. Another reason the theme of family unification was foregrounded was that while asylum seekers and refugees are in principle defined by international conventions, family unification is regulated by a corpus of national laws and stipulations (im, 10). The adoption of an “attachment requirement” in the Alien Act in 2000 was a particularly notable attempt by Danish politicians to regain control over immigration. The attachment requirement constituted a new tool to distinguish between wanted and unwanted immigrants and, as some politicians openly stated, to decrease the number of residency permits issued. When the Social Democratic Party–led government implemented the attachment requirement in 2000, it emphasized that the goal was to combat “forced marriages” organized by parents with immigrant backgrounds without the consent of their children. However, the requirement involved a much broader set of criteria and came to affect a much broader group than young people who might be forced to marry.
The attachment requirement entailed, according to the Alien Act §9, that family reunification on Danish soil could be permitted only if the applicants’ shared attachment to Denmark was stronger than the applicants’ combined attachment to any other country.31 The attachment principle was also applied to refugees seeking residency permits, applications for children to be unified with parents in Denmark, and criminals sentenced to deportation. In all cases, individuals could be denied Danish residency if they were assessed to have a greater “attachment” to another country. The requirement received most public attention in regard to family reunification based on marriage, and cases regularly surfaced in the Danish media displaying the “bureaucratic” and “heartless” separation of couples whose love crossed national borders. In contrast to other European countries, the Danish attachment doctrine did not really concern whether the couples seeking unification had married out of true love, since it did not distinguish between “forced” and “voluntary” marriages.32 Instead, the law comprised a set of more or less measurable criteria, including linguistic ability, duration of stays within the Danish territory, and demonstration of a willingness to integrate, learn the Danish language, and participate in the labor market.
In 2007 a “citizenship test” was implemented as the result of a political alliance on sharpening the requirements for obtaining Danish citizenship. The test was designed to reveal whether would-be residents had acquired knowledge about Danish society, culture, and history, and it is still in effect in 2019 after having been modified several times.33 The citizenship test emerged as part of the “cultural battle” that started around 2000 and lasted roughly a decade; a central element of this struggle was the controversial project of the Danish “cultural canon.” Prominent liberal politicians and opinion makers had initiated a cultural battle to confront the dominant welfarist thinking and cultural radicalism of the preceding decades. They argued that the disempowering of citizens and the dilution of the Danish culture needed to be reversed in a time of sweeping globalization and cultural uprooting. This call for a major cultural reinforcement was epitomized by the Danish cultural canon (2005–6) initiated by Minister of Culture Brian Mikkelsen from the conservative party. The canon was a collection of books, paintings, architecture, design, and films that represented indispensable expressions of genuine Danish culture. Being a target of heated public debate, the canon never achieved any major impact, but many of the “Danish values” it expressed, such as a liberal mind-set, respect for democracy, equality between men and women, creative pedagogy, and a healthy skepticism of authorities, continued to figure in debates on what immigrants should essentially become to be integrated.
Mons Bissenbakker has argued that the combination of criteria in the Danish Alien Act constructs national attachment as a rather diffuse combination of objective and subjective elements (ar, 182). The law assessed a couple’s combined national attachment by means of four criteria: (1) the duration and nature of both applicants’ stays in their respective countries, (2) the Danish resident’s family attachment to Denmark compared to the attachment to the nonresident’s country of origin, (3) the Danish language skills of both applicants, and (4) both applicants’ attachment to Denmark in terms of education or employment.34 This list makes clear that “attachment” is not an objective factor that can be determined with certainty once and for all. In particular, criteria 3 and 4 allow considerations of the applicants’ willingness and capacity to integrate themselves in the Danish society. To prove that applicants had a greater attachment to Denmark than to other nations, they needed to demonstrate “commitment to a continuous, open-ended attachment effort,” which constitutes a “never-ending disciplinary task, requiring them to visibly perform a set of vaguely defined actions that may or may not reflect their inner will to integrate” (ar, 183, 192). This emphasis on self-responsibility and self-discipline was not unique for immigrants, however; it reflected a broader shift, since the early 1980s, in Danish social policies toward clients’ “inner will-power.”35 Administratively, the mixture of heterogeneous criteria gave the Danish immigration authorities great discretionary power to determine who had or had not fulfilled the attachment requirement.
With regard to the Foucauldian framework, the use of the attachment criteria could be said to constitute a new constellation of sovereign power, discipline, and security. Essentially, residency and citizenship are granted on the basis of the law, including the rights and obligations that citizenship entails. As such, the attachment requirement is a tool for determining attachment as a legal fact, informing sovereign decisions that exert control over the national territory. However, by simultaneously constructing attachment as an ongoing process driven by the applicant’s willpower, the disciplinary rationality is visible in the attachment requirement, including the conventional tools of the examination, hierarchical observation, and normalizing judgments. Applicants can be scrutinized according to norms for Danish language capacity, (efforts at) labor market participation, knowledge of Danish society, and more. A degree of attachment can then be established, and would-be residents should work to gradually deepen it, moving closer to the norm. Finally, the attachment requirement has functions that resonate with the rationality of security, insofar it distinguishes between good circulation and bad circulation.
Bissenbakker argues that the requirement is part of a “selection policy,” which “works by granting the state maximum flexibility to choose between preferred immigrants” (ar, 189). Hence the blending of specific and vague attachment criteria extended the state’s ability to select wanted immigrants and exclude unwanted ones. As an instrument of securitization, the attachment requirement filtered human circulation into the Danish territory, “eliminating its dangers, making a division between good and bad circulation, and maximizing the good circulation by eliminating the bad” (stp, 18). A general political premise behind the arguments for restricting immigration to Denmark was that the migrant groups tend to develop suboptimal patterns threatening the welfare society from within: high unemployment and crimes rates, excessive fertility, and traditionalistic, undemocratic attitudes. Against this backdrop, the attachment requirement was part of a governmental strategy for (1) enhancing state control over immigration, (2) scrutinizing and normalizing would-be residents, and (3) finding acceptable levels, filtering, and optimizing the selection in the quest for securitizing the welfare state.
The Ghetto Clause
In 2018 the attachment requirement was excluded from the Danish Alien Act. The ruling Liberal-Conservative government was forced to discard the requirement after the International Court held that the twenty-six-year waiver was discriminatory. It exempted from the attachment requirement applicants who had been resident in Denmark for at least twenty-six years (ar, 188). The Alien Act of 2018 contained a revised clause, the “integration requirement,” which maintained several of the discarded attachment requirement’s criteria, including a twenty-four-year clause, along with the language skills, employment, and education required of both the sponsor and the applicant. Most notably, however, the strategy of restricting family reunifications from particular regions in the Middle East and Africa was implemented through a new stipulation, the so-called ghetto clause. Bissenbakker suggests that the real substitute for the attachment requirement is the ghetto clause, which states that a sponsor cannot apply for spousal reunification if he or she lives in a neighborhood considered problematic and “vulnerable” (ar, 193). The idea that some urban areas might encourage degeneracy and immoral habits among particular urban segments has a long history, as Thomas Osborne and Nikolas Rose demonstrate. “Spatializing” the city in terms of zones of distinct social fabrics originated with statistical studies in the early nineteenth century, then continued with the explorations of the “dark continent” of the poor in the second half of the nineteenth century and the notion of urban subculture that emerged in the 1970s.36 Such spatialization of urban virtue relies on techniques of gathering, comparing, classifying, and publishing data on working-class quarters, problem zones, or ghettos. The ghetto stipulation is still in effect, as of December 2019, and the home page of the Danish Immigration Service offers a detailed list of street addresses affected by the clause.
The idea that certain areas of Denmark had become special “problem zones,” or ghettos, had been increasingly forcefully formulated since the first decade of the 2000s. In 2010 the Ministry of Social Affairs had established a ghetto list that included twenty-nine urban areas defined mainly by nonprofit public housing, extraordinary proportions of immigrants and descendants from non-Western countries, low education levels, and high levels of crime and unemployment. Ever since, politicians have promised to make special efforts to combat “parallel societies,” “those areas that close themselves off from the surrounding society,” as State Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen said in his New Year’s speech on January 1, 2018: “I’m thinking of those children that grow up in an environment where it is not the norm that parents work. Where money is not a salary you work for, but something you pick up at the city hall, or seize through crime. I’m speaking of the housing estates where youngsters are forced to marry someone that they don’t love; where women are considered of less value than men.”37 The quote expresses an often-voiced assumption in the recent Danish debate on immigration: certain urban areas have developed into ghettos, or “parallel societies,” where a dangerous “counterculture” reigns.
Often the range of unfortunate behaviors and attitudes listed by the state minister is presented as a problem of resistance and isolation. The ghetto residents seem almost completely resistant to Danish norms and values, maintaining sectarian, undemocratic beliefs, viewing men and women as unequal, practicing social control over their (female) children, and being irresponsible with regard to their means of substance and to finding employment. This rearticulation of the ghetto as a breeding spot for social problems and dysfunctional families has inspired Danish politicians to implement a number of sanctions and special legal regulations targeting ghetto residents. These include sanctioning parents for their children’s school absence, giving especially strict sentences for crimes committed in ghetto zones, and granting resourceful (nonimmigrant) applicants priority for housing in the ghettos.38 These interventions into the ghettos, which allegedly have their own laws and regularities, resonate with the “social diagram” for urban governance, a term coined by Osborne and Rose.39 This diagram, which targets the conditions of social life in urban zones, is accompanied by a “eugenic diagram” that considers the hereditary effects on urban segments caused by extraordinary rates of procreation in problem zones:
What one saw was not merely deterioration but degeneration, a progressive weakening of the stock caused not only by the hereditary transmission of constitutions weakened physically and morally by urban existence, but also by differential rates of breeding, such that those from the weakest stock bred the fastest—with their puny offspring protected from the struggle for existence by well-meaning but misguided philanthropy—just as the more civilized engaged in selfish practices to limit their procreation.40
Using geographic location, the ghetto clause restricts certain applicants from reunification, so Danish immigration policy could be said to rearticulate the social as well as the eugenic diagram. In concrete terms, the clause means, at best, a continuation of the legal indeterminacy and, at worst, discrimination against a specific population group. This separation of the ghetto displays a certain “ubiquity of borders,” which means that the border is no longer a clear demarcation separating a state from its exterior but rather, as Balibar suggests, a grid ranging over the entire social body.41 The governmental segregation of the ghetto was justified by the need to defend the population against deleterious elements within its own body.
Using a ghetto clause is in continuity with the long-standing Danish welfare strategy of nurturing and optimizing the population and, at the same time, avoiding suboptimal or destructive developments. This governmental innovation sought to steer the biological and social dynamics of the population in a more optimal direction.42 While monitoring and profiling categories of citizens based on the probability of their developing dysfunctional behavior has always been integral to twentieth-century Danish welfarism, internal bordering is a new instrument in this project. The ghetto clause can be situated at the intersection of sovereign law, disciplinary normalization, and the security of the population. It uses sovereign intervention to minimize risky circulation on the basis of norms that define a population segment to have a higher predisposition toward suboptimal behaviors.
This essay has situated the risky immigrant as a key figure in the Danish policy development as well as in a broader historical perspective on the inherent contradictions of the modern state. From this vantage point, the risky immigrant can be situated in the interplay of three basic logics of statehood: the sovereign-territorial logic of enclosure, the capitalist-expansive logic of mobility, and the welfarist logic of normalization. Foucault’s rationalities of law, security, and discipline offer a framework for elucidating and conceptualizing the different logics of modern statehood in their dynamic interplay.
Comparing the two overall periods of Danish immigration policy scrutinized above, the decade of the 1970s and the period from the late 1980s until today, one thing is evident: the number of rules passed in relation to immigrants and refugees increased drastically during the latter period. Whereas the 1970s was a period of low activity concerning immigration laws, the 1980s onward saw an escalation in lawmaking, redefining both foreigners’ access to Denmark and the conditions of individuals who were granted residency but still constituted an “immigration risk.” This development can be described as a shift in the immigration discourse from securing circulation while minimizing risks to resurrecting legal sovereignty while enforcing disciplinary profiling with regard to norms. This movement should not be understood as a sequential shift from one rationality to another; rather, it should be conceived as a situation of evolving coexistence, as foreshadowed by Foucault: “There is not a series of successive elements, the appearance of the new causing the earlier ones to disappear” (stp, 8). Instead of a sequential history consisting of epochal breaks, Foucault emphasized the coexistence and mutual interplay of governmental rationalities. This interplay would cause gradual transformations in “the system of correlation between juridico-legal mechanisms, disciplinary mechanisms, and mechanisms of security” (stp, 22). The above analysis did not so much confirm that these rationalities can be identified in the Danish immigration regime as it used them as guiding lenses while foregrounding the evolving and contradictory policy developments in their own right.
The analysis has placed the emergence of the “risky immigrant” in a complex of national and international developments. Increasing transnational mobility; human suffering caused by war, ethnic and religious persecution, economic stagnancy, and environmental degradation; and the growing nationalist quests for territorial enclosure all constitute widespread “conditions of historical emergence” (stp, 110). The notion of the “risky immigrant” became, in all its ambiguity, a central reference point for the compact of restrictive shielding measures implemented to hinder risky immigrants’ entrance into Scandinavia and other parts of Europe. Indeed, since the 1990s political forces across the European member states have increasingly questioned the aim of unhindered mobility through harmonization. Often these counterreactions voice nationalist arguments regarding a country’s right to sovereign decision-making, especially with regard to immigration and welfare arrangements. In Denmark the Danish People’s Party has campaigned successfully on a promise to revive “the original welfare state,” understood as directed autonomously by the Danes, deeply rooted in this people’s unique traditions and deep-seated Christian culture.
The resolute tightening of the Danish immigration laws, forged by shifting political alliances from the 1990s onward, along with the change toward an increasingly harsh discourse on immigrants, has often been described as a dramatic break in recent Danish history. While that account is not incorrect, this study has demonstrated a neglected continuity that runs from the welfare experts of the 1960s and early 1970s, with their preventive optimism and techniques of normalization, and the recent measures for profiling population segments that are allegedly likely to become dysfunctional and risky in the future. In both cases, governmental intervention into population groups is rhetorically justified by the imperative of optimizing them, minimizing the amount of abnormal or risky behavior that these groups are predisposed to manifest.
In comparison to the dominant streams of immigration research, this study has focused on the broader historical rationalities that form the conditions of possibility for the seemingly mundane policy initiatives that recurrently surface to manage the “immigration risk.” Pursuing this approach, the genealogical analysis revealed unexpected breaks and continuities in Danish immigration policies, including, perhaps most notably, the lineage connecting the heyday of “welfare planning” with the recent preventive discriminatory profiling of groups assigned a higher probability to endanger the welfare state. One task for future studies would be to further explore how present-day initiatives for shielding, categorizing, normalizing, and segregating “risky immigrants” both rearticulate broader governmental rationalities and mobilize techniques and ways of reasoning that are part of each nation’s political and administrative heritage.
I am grateful to William Morgan for his fruitful and detailed comments on earlier versions of this essay, and I wish to thank the rest of the editorial board of Qui Parle for their assistance in preparing the manuscript for publication.
On immigrants’ diverse motivations and adaptation strategies, see Triandafyllidou, “Beyond Irregular Migration Governance”; and Berry, “Globalisation and Acculturation.” On political alliances, see Zimmerman, “Tackling the European Migration Problem.” On societies that integrate immigrants successfully, see Reitz, Host Societies and the Reception of Immigrants. On immigrants’ labor market participation, see Brodmann and Polavieja, “Immigrants in Denmark”; and Bisin et al., “Ethnic Identity and Labor-Market Outcomes.” On their access to health care and education, see Cuadra, “Right of Access to Health Care”; Woodward, Howard, and Wolffers, “Health and Access to Care for Undocumented Migrants.”
CLANDESTINO, Undocumented Migration, 112.
Foucault, Security, Territory, Population, 117 (hereafter cited as stp).
Lindberg, Prozorov, and Ojakangas, ui8241934C24Europe beyond Universalism and Particularism.
Balibar, “Europe as Borderland,” 196 (hereafter cited as eb).
Karlsen, Sørensen, and Villadsen, “Boy on the Beach,” 148.
Ministry of Labor, Report on Foreign Workers’ Conditions, 5 (hereafter cited as fwc). All translations from the Danish are my own.
Ministry of Social Affairs, Report on Foreign Workers’ Social and Societal Adaptation, 23 (hereafter cited as fwssa).
Find and Madsen, Integration Ends Up in the Ghetto, 30.
Pedersen and Smith, “International Migration,” 8 (hereafter cited as im).
Ministry of Internal Affairs, Integration of Immigrants in Denmark, 3 (hereafter cited as iid).
Ministry of Refugees, Immigrants and Integration, About the Use of the Twenty-Four Years’ Requirement, 1.
Bissenbakker, “Attachment Required,” 184 (hereafter cited as ar).
Danish Immigration Service, “New in Denmark.”
Osborne and Rose, “Governing Cities,” 739.
Find and Madsen, Integration Ends Up in the Ghetto, 53.
Osborne and Rose, “Governing Cities,” 745.
Osborne and Rose, “Governing Cities,” 745.