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Immigration Enforcement across the World: Drivers and Consequences of Cross-Country Variation in Deportation Risks

Immigration enforcement including the deportation of significant numbers of migrants who do not qualify for residence status back to their countries of origin is common practice in most destination countries. The European Union, for example, returned almost 2.2 million migrants over the last decade (Eurostat 2020), and the United States deported a total of 5.4 million migrants between 1997 and 2015, mainly to Latin America and the Caribbean (US Department of Homeland Security Various Years). For some countries, the inflow of returned migrants is of considerable size. For instance, 27,000 migrants were returned from the EU to Albania in 2016 alone, corresponding to one removal for every 100 persons of the country’s home population (Frontex 2017). For countries like El Salvador and Honduras, the cumulated inflow of deported migrants since the late-1990s is equivalent to roughly 4% of their population stocks (US Department of Homeland Security Various Years).

In spite of its magnitude, deportation patterns in host countries as well as their effects in migrants´ countries of origin lack thorough empirical investigation. A main reason for the scarcity of quantitative research on the drivers and consequences of deportation practices has been the lack of deportation data for a large country sample: Whereas considerable effort has been put into the collection of data on emigration and migrant remittances over the last two decades, no detailed annual country panel data on deportation corridors for a large sample of country pairs and over longer periods of time exists so far. As a result, few empirically backed theories have been developed on the links between enforced return and political or economic variables in host or origin countries.

The goal of this research is to assemble the first country-by-country data base on deportations from administrative sources in host countries in order to unpack aggregate patterns and mechanisms related to the political economy of deportation regimes in host countries as well as their consequences in migrants’ countries of origin. Regarding the political economy of deportation regimes in host countries, this research asks about determinants of selection into deportations, as well as changing dynamics over time. In migrants’ countries of origin, it studies effects of the inflow of deportees on selection patterns as reflected in the sociodemographic profile and skills of returnees as well as its external effects on social and political conflict.

Research is funded by Thyssen Foundation for two years starting in September 2022, with the possibility of extension for another year until September 2025.