Law Breaking and Law Bending: How International Migrants Negotiate with State Borders

Cassilde Schwartz, Miranda Simon, David Hudson, Shane D. Johnson

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Many countries have become increasingly aggressive in their efforts to stop
nauthorized migration, but most evidence suggests that immigration enforcement policies do not effectively deter migrants. We draw on literature from social psychology, specifically the dual-system model of decision-making, which differentiates between judgments that are subject to considerations of risks and costs and judgments that are `non-consequentialist'. Non-consequentialist decision-making is founded in moral intuition and rejects rational considerations of costs and benefits. This mental process would render the deterrence tools of the state powerless. We posit that some, but not all, forms of unauthorized migration will invoke non-consequentialist decision-making. When considering semi-legal strategies, which individuals may perceive as `bending the law' rather than breaking it, aspiring migrants are likely to weigh the risks and costs of enforcement policies. Meanwhile, when considering fully illegal migration strategies, aspiring migrants will prioritize moral considerations for breaking the law rather than the consequences of breaking the law. We find evidence for our theory using original population-based list experiments along with focus groups with aspiring migrants in an origin country.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbersqaa079
Pages (from-to)184-196
Number of pages13
JournalInternational Studies Quarterly
Issue number1
Early online date13 Nov 2020
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2021

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