Migration continues to be high on the social and political agenda. With emerging economic crises, shortcomings of the promises of economic development and prosperity, consequences of climate change, and conflicts, people will continue to migrate to seek new opportunities for themselves and their families but also to seek protection and assistance from threats and risks which force them to leave their homes.
To respond to these migration flows – voluntary or forced – governments worldwide have prioritised an approach to immigration that criminalises the act of migration and focuses on security. Checking legal status is embedded at various moments of migrants’ lives. It is no longer about physical national borders, but we are seeing the externalisation of borders with the transfer of border management to third countries and digital borders, i.e. digital portals and databases.
Increasingly these approaches have been formalised and coordinated as part of a broader strategy to digitise immigration enforcement. Large amounts of data are being requested from migrants, from their fingerprints to their digital data trails, to identity their credibility and worthiness, and to monitor, track, and profile them. Life-changing decisions are being made on the basis of the data being collected but also inferred and observed, and yet there are limited safeguards in place to regulate and oversee the use of tech and data processing in immigration processes.
Migrants are bearing the burden and losing agency in their migration experience. Their fate is being put in the hands of systems, driven by data processing and tech innovation, that are feeding the surveillance and data exploitation ecosystem driven by governments, which serves their national security and immigration policies to dissuade individuals from migrating, and by companies which see migrants' data as yet another business market.
There is a need to demand a more humane approach to immigration based on the principles of fairness, accessibility, and respect for human rights.