The Trade-Offs of Legal Status: Safe Migration, Documentation, and Debt in Southeast Asia
- About the Book
The Trade-Offs of Legal Status explores the costs, risks, and unfreedoms produced alongside migrant regularization in Southeast Asia. In 2017, Thailand’s military government enacted a new migration law cracking down on unauthorized employment, coupled with an extensive regularization campaign seeking to grant legal status to migrants already working in the country. Between 2017 and 2018, more than a million migrants gained legal status. Based on multisited ethnography of that time, and informed by a decade of experience researching migrant communities in Cambodia, Maryann Bylander describes the experiences of Cambodians confronting Thailand’s intensifying migration infrastructure. In this evolving landscape, migrations are increasingly shaped by formalized documents, complex systems of brokerage, collateralized debts, and state control.
Traversing across the Cambodia-Thai borderlands, the book covers a wide range: from deportation centers; to pop-up documentation sites; to safe migration trainings; to international policy meetings; and to migrant communities. Through vivid, accessible storytelling, the author describes the experiences of Cambodians as they navigate Thailand’s increasingly strict and costly documentation regime. While Cambodians want legal status for the protections they believe it will offer, Bylander shows that documentation has ambiguous and often unwanted effects—documents are easily invalidated, can create harsh constraints, and routinely lead to new debts. At the same time, documents do not always offer meaningful protection, or improve working conditions. Together, these stories challenge the discourses and programming of “safe migration” campaigns, which are a growing area of engagement for nongovernmental and international organizations. While safe-migration efforts assume that regular, orderly migrations will produce safer, more beneficial migrations, the experiences of Cambodians in Thailand suggest otherwise.
The Trade-Offs of Legal Status is the first book to explore the lives of Cambodian migrants in Thailand, offering insight to students and scholars in sociology, anthropology, development studies, geography, migration studies, and Southeast Asian studies. Through its grounded exploration of a case of migration, the book offers a rare ethnographic portrait of migration and development in Southeast Asia.
- About the Author(s)
Maryann Bylander, AuthorMaryann Bylander is associate professor of sociology at Lewis & Clark College.