Volume 68, Issue 3, 609-656
Migration emergencies are a commonplace feature in contemporary headlines. Pundits offer a variety of causes provoking these emergencies. Some highlight the deadly risks of these journeys for the migrants. Many more express alarm at the potential threats these mass influxes pose to their destination countries. But few question whether these migrant flows are, as commonly portrayed, unexpected and unpredictable. This Article asks whether these migration emergencies are surprising events or the logical and foreseeable outcomes of the structural failures of the global migration system. In particular, it interrogates the architecture of international migration law, arguing that the current framework is unsustainable in today’s globalized world.
This is a story about the legal construction of crisis. Several literatures offer compelling insights into the construction of migration crises, but fail to explore the crucial role of international migration law. Scholars of forced migration view the legal framework as an inadequate response to crises but not as a root cause. Others have highlighted the role that crises play in the development of international law, demonstrating how crises impact law, but failing to examine how law helps to construct those crises.
This Article begins to unpack the role of international migration law in constructing migration “crises.” International migration law, because it is codified in written instruments and nearly impossible to alter, entrenches sociocultural frames that might otherwise be substantially more flexible. International law has constructed a deeply path-dependent approach to international migration that not only obscures systemic inequality but also consumes alternate conceptions of morality. In response to this critique, this Article suggests a new approach to global migration law that aims to govern migrant flows more effectively. In short, it aims to establish international migration law as a separate subfield of international law rather than the afterthought that it currently represents.