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Where Governmentality Ends: Border Control Officers and Deportations of Sojourners in Israel

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 May 2011

Oded Korczyn
Stanford University


This paper will shed light on the deportation process of visaless sojourners staying and working in Israel. I will explain how state bureaucrats, specifically border control officers of the Enforcement Unit of the Interior Ministry (in Hebrew, hamemune al bikoret hagvulot beyekhidat ha'akhifa, misrad hapnim) are able to conduct activities that cause suffering to sojourners while still viewing themselves as moral human beings, by breaking down the decision-making process into a series of dichotomic categories, by defining Zionism as a context that justifies deportation, and by governing their emotions. I claim that in Israel, state bureaucrats view sojourners as unmanageable and incorrigible. Consequently, deportation becomes a logical course of action. Such an approach, which stresses the bureaucratic aspect of national projects, enables a better understanding of how the “State” is able to perform large-scale projects that cause suffering to individuals.

Migrant Workers in the Middle East
Copyright © International Labor and Working-Class History, Inc. 2011

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I would like to thank Professor James Ferguson, Professor Sylvia Yanagisako, and Professor Joel Beinin for helping me craft the ideas that led to this paper. My colleagues Tania Ahmad, Mun Young Cho, and Jeffery “Kutralul” Bolton all contributed greatly to this paper by reading earlier versions and offering useful feedback.

1. By using the term sojourners, I aim to address all those who are staying for an extended period of time in a country without being citizens or permanent residents. In literature there is often a differentiation between people who move to a different country for economic reasons and those who migrate for reasons of security. The first are called, among others, labor migrants, migrant workers, guest workers, and foreign workers. The second are categorized as asylum seekers, displaced people, and refugees. Furthermore, there are also distinctions between documented and undocumented people (or, in more coarse texts, legal and illegal). The term sojourners is intended to encompass all of those cultural and legal categories.

2. For a more detailed account of the trends of non-Jewish migration to Israel, see Raijman, Rebeca and Kemp, Adriana, “Labor Migration, Managing the Ethno-National Conflict, and Client Politics in Israel,” in Transnational Migration to Israel in Global Comparative Context, ed. Willen, Sarah (Lanham, 2007), 3150Google Scholar.

3. Kemp, Adriana and Raijman, Rebeca, Migrants and Workers: The Political Economy of Labor Migration in Israel [Hebrew] (Jerusalem, Van Leer), 114138Google Scholar.

4. See for example, “Klein and Benizri are Together Combating Unemployment,” Ynet, September 12, 2002,,7340,L-2115714,00.html; Gideon Eshet, “A Just and Clever Policy,” Ynet, October 16, 2002,,7340,L-2159502,00.html; Gad Lior, “Ben Basat: The Government is not Doing Enough to Curb Unemployment,” Ynet, July 1, 2003,,7340,L-2674853,00.html.

5. Agamben, Giorgio, State of Exception (Chicago, 2005)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

6. Ibid.

7. Foucault, Michel, “Governmentality,” in The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality, ed. Burchell, Graham, Gordon, Colin, and Miller, Peter (Chicago, 1991), 100Google Scholar.

8. Ibid., 102.

9. Bauman, Zygmunt, Modernity and Ambivalence (Ithaca, 1991)Google Scholar.

10. Dean, Michael, Governmentality: Power and Rule in Modern Society (London, 1999)Google Scholar.

11. Stoler, Ann Laura, “Affective States,” in A Companion to the Anthropology of Politics, ed. Nugent, David and Vincent, Joan (Malden, 2004), 10Google Scholar.

12. For an interesting account of how emotions—especially compassion—are intertwined in the political process of obtaining legal residency in France, see Ticktin, Miriam, “Where Ethics and Politics Meet: The Violence of Humanitarianism in France,” American Ethnologist 33 (2006): 3349CrossRefGoogle Scholar. For another paper that addresses the complex relationship between bureaucracy, ideology, and emotions, see Graham, Mark, “Emotional Bureaucracies: Emotions, Civil Servants, and Immigrants in the Swedish Welfare State,” Ethos 30 2003: 199226CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

13. See Ferguson, James and Gupta, Akhil, “Spatializing States: Toward an Ethnography of Neoliberal Governmentality,” American Ethnologist 29 (2002): 9811002CrossRefGoogle Scholar, and Ferguson, , Global Shadows: Africa in the Neoliberal World Order (Durham, 2006), 89112CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

14. Mitchell, Timothy, “The Limits of the State: Beyond Statist Approaches and Their Critics,” The American Political Science Review 85 (1991): 7796Google Scholar.

15. See, for example, Sassen, Saskia, Losing Control? Sovereignty in an Age of Globalization (New York, 1995)Google Scholar, and Castells, Manuel, The Information Age, Vol. 1, The Rise of the Network Society (Oxford, 1996)Google Scholar for a discussion about the waning of state power.

16. Neoliberalization policies adopted by many developed and developing countries (and championed by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund) stressed the reduction of governmental expenditure and services and privatizing many of the previous services rendered by the state, usually resulting in large, for-profit corporations filling the gap. Much of the discourse on the waning of state power relies, implicitly or explicitly, on neoliberal processes.

17. Ong, Aihwa, “Zones of New Sovereignty in Southeast Asia,” in Globalization Under Construction: Governmentality, Law, and Identity, ed. Perry, Richard Warren and Maurer, Bill (Minneapolis, 2003), 3969Google Scholar.

18. This distinction between those considered deserving and undeserving takes place on many levels at the same time: spatially, who is permitted to stay within the territory of the state; economically, who can participate in the free market and who should enjoy social services; from a healthcare point of view, who should receive healthcare coverage; and from an educational perspective, who should be enrolled in the school system. The nation-state, NGOs, and individuals all struggle over the boundaries of each category.

19. For an interesting account of Israel's “collective memory,” myths, and ideologies, see, Zerubavel, Yael, Recovered Roots: Collective Memory and the Making of Israeli National Tradition (Chicago, 1995)Google Scholar.

20. Because there was only one woman working as a Border Control Officer and I saw only two policewomen, I refer to all state bureaucrats as male. It is important to keep the identities concealed because many of my informants are still working for the Interior Ministry and their positions may be at risk if their views and behavior become known.

21. The Immigration Police officers collect information by recruiting collaborators from the sojourn population as well as from “worried” citizens. In order to search a domicile, the Immigration Police need a judge to sign a search order. A day before the operation, a list of addresses and names is sent to the pertinent judge, who, almost without exception, approves it in toto.

22. See Raijman, Rebeca and Semyonov, Moshe, “Perceived Threat and Exclusionary Attitudes Towards Foreign Workers in Israel,” Ethnic and Racial Studies 27 (2004): 3CrossRefGoogle Scholar. For a discussion about the difference between state-level policies and local policies regarding sojourners, see Raijman, Rebeca and Kemp, Adriana, “Tel Aviv is Not Foreign to You: Urban Incorporation Policy on Labor Migrants in Israel,” International Migration Review 38 (2004): 2651Google Scholar.

23. For example, sojourners protected under the Israeli branch of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) are not arrested or deported. Similarly, Border Control Officers refrain from arresting or deporting mothers (but not fathers) who have minor children.

24. Herzfeld, Michael, The Social Production of Indifference: Exploring the Symbolic Roots of Western Bureaucracy (Chicago, 1993)Google Scholar.

25. Scott, James, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (New Haven, 1998), 11Google Scholar.

26. I use the term regulatory power in a dual sense: the power to regulate the behavior of others as well as the power to regulate sets of norms and beliefs and to reify ideologies, ideas, and categories as natural and as part of the “common sense.”

27. In Israel, the Law of Return states that children and grandchildren of Jews, whether through matrilineal or patrilineal descent, can automatically become citizens. Descendents of Jewish grandparents can become permanent residents (and later citizens) if they are under the age of eighteen.

28. In Israel, sojourners considered by the state to be labor migrants can stay for a period of up to five years and three months. After this period, they must leave the country (with the exception of caregivers, who can remain for as long as the employer is alive). However, if a sojourner with a work visa loses his or her employment for whatever reason—because he or she is fired, his or her employer passes away, or he or she leaves the job—and is unable to find employment within a maximum of sixty days, he or she must leave the country.

29. In Israel, the work sojourners do is usually gendered and nationalized. Thus, women from the Philippines are mostly employed as caregivers, and Chinese men are mostly employed in construction.

30. Despite several public denials, the Immigration Police has recruited collaborators since its inception. Usually, collaborators are permitted to remain in the country and sometimes are also given minimal financial support. However, after the collaborator has “fulfilled” his or her role, he or she is no longer immune to deportation.

31. In many cases, some bureaucracies of the state consider a person to be legal while others claim he or she is not. Usually, bureaucrats of the Ministries of Health and Education tend to be more lenient, especially toward children, while the Interior Ministry adopts a hard line.

32. One personal question that is invariably asked is whether the sojourner got married (to someone who is not an Israeli citizen) in Israel or has siblings there. This is deemed relevant because having a family in Israel is seen in the eyes of the Interior Ministry as “intent to permanently settle” and is considered sufficient grounds for deportation.

33. For an exhaustive definition of habitus, see Bourdieu, Pierre, Outline of a Theory of Practice (Cambridge, 2002), 7987Google Scholar.

34. I refer to social fact here in the Durkheimian sense. See Durkheim, Emile, The Rules of the Sociological Method (New York, 1982), 5059CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

35. Scott, Seeing Like a State.

36. Herzfeld, The Social Production of Indifference.

37. Foucault, “Governmentality.”

38. For a thorough discussion of the “state of exception” see Agamben, State of Exception.

39. See Hull, Matthew, “The File: Agency, Authority, and Autography in an Islamabad Bureaucracy,” Language and Communication 23 (2003): 287314CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

40. Bauman, Modernity and Ambivalence.