Crimmigration and Decision-making in the Borderlands of the Netherlands

We are happy to introduce the research project “Crimmigration and Decision-making the Borderlands of the Netherlands”. The research is carried out by researchers of the Institute for Criminal Law & Criminology of Leiden Law School the Netherlands and supported by the Leiden University Fund and the Gratama Foundation. The research project is founded and coordinated by Dr. Maartje van der Woude (Associate Professor of Criminal Law). Other research affiliates are Prof. Joanne van der Leun (Professor of Criminology), Jelmer Brouwer M.Sc. (PhD- Student) and Tim Dekkers M.Sc. (Junior Researcher). The project officially started October 1st 2013, the data collection mid November 2013.

Background of the research

In accordance with the legal framework of the Schengen Border Code (SBC) enabling the free movement of persons, in 1994 the Netherlands has introduced so-called Mobile Surveillance Controls (MSC) which are carried out in border areas on roads, in trains, on the water and at airports. These mobile controls allow the Border Police to check citizens’ travel documents in areas immediately behind the internal borders. The purpose of these “stop and identify” controls is to counter irregular stay in the Netherlands as well as some forms of related cross-border crime, such as human smuggling and identification fraud.

As with all stop and search-like powers, in the case of the MSC the authorized Border Patrol official enjoys a certain professional discretion in the exercise of the MSC: which person – or which vehicle – should be checked and who should not? Whereas it is necessary and desirable for law enforcement officials to have discretionary space, is the way in which officials use and give substance to this space increasingly subject of international discussion and scrutiny. These discussions and researches particularly focus on the factors and indicators that – either consciously or unconsciously – influence an official’s decision to stop a certain person or vehicle over another. In these discussions scholars from various disciplines often point at possible dangers of the expansion of discretionary stop and search powers. Not only would some of these powers be at odds with fundamental and human rights, more often, scholars also point at the danger of ethnic profiling. With regard to the latter, the increased use of technology and data-collection is also presented as highly problematic. Whereas these discussions used to be mostly focussed on law enforcement in the United States and the United Kingdom, the past couple of years a similar debate has risen in several European countries, the Netherlands being one of them.

Without downplaying the necessity to take these debates and the concerns that were raised seriously, for the Netherlands, solid empirical evidence is often lacking. In fact, little is known about the ways in which law enforcement officials perceive and use their discretionary powers as well as the factors that play a role in the decision-making process. The same holds for the ways in which stop and search powers are perceived and experienced by the persons who are subjected to them.

Research Aim

The research project aims to gain insight into the complexity and layered realities of front-line decision-making by border control officers as well as to gain insight into the perceptions of those who pass through the borderlands and were subjected to border checks. By combining these two aspects, the goal of the research is to contribute to current national and international discussions on the legitimacy and effectiveness of profiling and discretionary decision-making in the areas of immigration and crime control.

Data Collection

The data collection consists of 600 – 800 hours of observational study during which the researchers observe the ways in which the border control officers carry out their duties and during which they also question the officers involved about their decisions. In a later stage of the research focus groups will be held with different groups of border control officers as well policy makers. Besides this, another important part of the fieldwork consists of interviewing the people who were stopped and checked. Due to the great range of nationalities passing through the borderlands, this part of the data collection is carried out by having the people fill out a short semi-structured survey. The survey has been translated in to 14 languages.

For more information, please contact Maartje van der Woude:

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