Print Rights with a Thousand Masks: Migrant Vulnerability, Resistance and Human Rights Law




undocumented migrant, asylum-seeker, vulnerability, resistance, Covid-19, freedom of speech, human rights, migrant organizing


PrintRights, a cooperative of undocumented asylum-seekers in Amsterdam, manufactured facemasks during the Covid-19 pandemic; first distributing them to undocumented migrants residing in the city’s emergency shelter system and then selling them on-line to the wider public. By distributing facemasks with a message, PrintRights performatively inhabited the right to distribute printed works, legally resisting alienage law prohibitions on employment. Engaging the theory of Judith Butler, this article analyzes the relationship between PrintRights’ resistance, vulnerability and human rights discourse. Drawing on fieldwork conducted with PrintRights, this article shows the potential of human rights discourse to support undocumented migrant resistance. 


Author Biography

Jordan F. Dez, Faculty of Law, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Jordan Dez is a PhD researcher at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. She can be reached at


Åberg, K. (2021). Inclusion through conflict: Irregular migrants, Bonnie Honig, and political rights. Nordic Journal of Human Rights, 39(3), 224–242. DOI:

Abrams, K. (2014). Performative citizenship in the civil rights and immigrant rights movements (UC Berkeley Public Law Research Paper No. 2409971). DOI:

Abrego, L. (2008). Legitimacy, social identity, and the mobilization of law: The effects of Assembly Bill 540 on undocumented students in California. Law & Social Inquiry, 33(3), 709–734. DOI:

Al Tamimi, Y. (2016). The protection of vulnerable groups and individuals by the European Court of Human Rights. Journal européen des droits de l’homme, 2016(5), 561–583.

Anderson, B. (2008). “Illegal immigrant”: Victim or villain? (ESRC Centre on Migration, Policy and Society Working Paper No. 64). University of Oxford.

Anderson, B. (2013). Us and them? The dangerous politics of immigration control. Oxford University Press. DOI:

Anthony, F.-V., & Sterkens, C. (2018). Extending political rights to immigrants and refugees. In C. Sterkens & H.-G. Ziebertz (Eds.), Political and judicial rights through the prism of religious belief (pp. 145–183). Springer International Publishing. DOI:

Arendt, H. (1998). The human condition (2nd ed). University of Chicago Press. DOI:

Ayoub, P. M., Wallace, S. J., & Zepeda-Millán, C. (2014). Triangulation in social movement research. In D. della Porta (Ed.), Methodological practices in social movement research (pp. 67–96). Oxford University Press. DOI:

Baumgärtel, M. (2019). Demanding rights: Europe’s supranational courts and the dilemma of migrant vulnerability. Cambridge University Press. DOI:

Baumgärtel, M., & Oomen, B. (2019). Pulling human rights back in? Local authorities, international law and the reception of undocumented migrants. The Journal of Legal Pluralism and Unofficial Law, 51(2), 172–191. DOI:

Bender, F. (2021). Enfranchising the disenfranchised: Should refugees receive political rights in liberal democracies? Citizenship Studies, 25(1), 56–71. DOI:

Berntsen, L., de Lange, T., & Rijken, C. (2022). Migranten zonder verblijfsvergunning: Rechten en sociaaleconomische positie in Nederland. Amsterdam University Press.

Bhimji, F. (2014). Undocumented immigrants’ performances and claims of urban citizenship in Los Angeles. Journal of Intercultural Studies, 35(1), 18–33. DOI:

Bloom, T. (2017). Noncitizenism: Recognising noncitizen capabilities in a world of citizens. CRC Press. DOI:

Bosniak, L. (2006). The citizen and the alien: Dilemmas of contemporary membership. Princeton University Press. DOI:

Bracke, S. (2016). Bouncing back: Vulnerability and resistance in times of resilience. In J. Butler, Z. Gambetti, & L. Sabsay (Eds.), Vulnerability in resistance (pp. 52–75). Duke University Press. DOI:

Butler, J. (2015). Notes toward a performative theory of assembly. Harvard University Press. DOI:

Butler, J. (2016). Rethinking vulnerability and resistance. In J. Butler, Z. Gambetti, & L. Sabsay (Eds.), Vulnerability in resistance (pp. 12–27). Duke University Press. DOI:

Chauvin, S., & Garcés-Mascareñas, B. (2014). Becoming less illegal: Deservingness frames and undocumented migrant incorporation. Sociology Compass, 8(4), 422–432. DOI:

Chimienti, M., & Solomos, J. (2020). The transnational mobilization of ‘irregular migrants.’ In S. Spencer & A. Triandafyllidou (Eds.), Migrants with irregular status in Europe: Evolving conceptual and policy challenges (pp. 99–116). Springer International Publishing. DOI:

Cholewinski, R. (2005). Study on obstacles to effective access of irregular migrants to minimum social rights. Council of Europe Publishing.

Cole, A. (2016). All of us are vulnerable, but some are more vulnerable than others: The political ambiguity of vulnerability studies, an ambivalent critique. Critical Horizons, 17(2), 260–277. DOI:

Conference of European Churches (CEC) v. the Netherlands, 90/2013. (2014, November 10). European Committee of Social Rights.

Crépeau, F. (2014). Report of the special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants (A/HRC/26/35). UNCHR.

De Genova, N. P. (2002). Migrant “illegality” and deportability in everyday life. Annual Review of Anthropology, 31(1), 419–447. DOI:

Dembour, M.-B., & Kelly, T. (Eds.). (2011). Are human rights for migrants? Critical reflections on the status of irregular migrants in Europe and the United States. Routledge. DOI:

Durmuş, E. (2020). A typology of local governments’ engagement with human rights: Legal pluralist contributions to international law and human rights. Netherlands Quarterly of Human Rights, 38(1), 30–54. DOI:

Fineman, M. A. (2010). The vulnerable subject and the responsive state. Emory Law Journal, 60(2), 251–276.

Fiorito, T. (2021). Learning to be legal: Transition narratives of joy and survivor guilt of previously undocumented 1.5-generation Latinx immigrants in the United States. Citizenship Studies, 25(8), 1096–1111. DOI:

Ghaeminia, S. (2013, December 3). Opnieuw verhuizen voor bad, bed en brood. En rust. Trouw.

Hage, G. (2009). Waiting out the crisis: On stuckedness and governmentality. Anthropological Theory, 5, 463–475. DOI:

Hajer, M., & Bröer, C. (2020). We are here! Claim-making and claim-placing of undocumented migrants in Amsterdam. European Journal of Cultural and Political Sociology, 7(4), 431–451. DOI:

Hasan Bhuiyan, M. T, Khan, I. M., Rahman Jony, S. S., Robinson, R., Nguyen, U.-S. D. T, Keellings, D., Rahman, M. S., & Haque, U. (2021). The disproportionate impact of COVID-19 among undocumented immigrants and racial minorities in the US. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(23), Article 12708. DOI:

Huerta, A. V., & McLean, L. (2021). From vulnerable victims to insurgent caravaneros: The genesis and consolidation of a new form of migrant self-defence in America. In G. Grappi (Ed.), Migration and the contested politics of justice: Europe and the global dimension (184-203). Routledge.

Inter-American Court of Human Rights. (2003, September 17). Juridical condition and rights of undocumented migrants (Advisory Opinion OC-18/03).

Irwin, R. M., & Del Monte, J. A. (2020). Migrant autonomy and wilfulness amidst the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic at the Tijuana border. Crossings: Journal of Migration & Culture, 11(2), 153–168. DOI:

Isin, E. (2017). Performative citizenship. In A. Shachar, R. Bauböck, I. Bloemraad, & M. Vink (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of citizenship (pp. 501–520). Oxford University Press. DOI:

Isin, E. F., & Nielsen, G. M. (Eds.). (2008). Acts of citizenship. Zed Books.

Johansson, A., & Vinthagen, S. (2019). Conceptualizing ‘everyday resistance’: A transdisciplinary approach. Routledge. DOI:

Kamerman, S. (2012, October 26). Bed, bad en brood. Dat is het minste. NRC.Next.

Kawar, L. (2015). Contesting immigration policy in court: Legal activism and its radiating effects in the United States and France. Cambridge University Press. DOI:

Koppelingswet 1998 (NL), Staatsblad 1998, 203.

Kumar, B. N., Hargreaves, S., Agyemang, C., James, R. A., Blanchet, K., & Gruer, L. (2021). Reducing the impact of the coronavirus on disadvantaged migrants and ethnic minorities. European Journal of Public Health, 31(S4), iv9–iv13. DOI:

Leachman, G. (2013). Legal framing. In A. Sarat (Ed.), Studies in law, politics, and society (Vol. 61, pp. 25–59). Emerald Group Publishing. DOI:

López-Sala, A. (2021). Luchando por sus derechos en tiempos de COVID-19. Resistencias y reclamaciones de regularización de los migrantes Sinpapeles en España. REMHU: Revista Interdisciplinar da Mobilidade Humana, 29(61), 83–96. DOI:

Mayrhofer, M. (2020). The challenges of the concept of vulnerability in the human rights context from a discourse-analytical perspective. Zeitschrift Für Menschenrechte, 14(2), 156–175. DOI:

McInerney-Lankford, S. (2017). Legal methodologies and human rights research: Challenges and opportunities. In B. A. Andreassen, H.-O., Sano, & S. McInerney-Lankford (Eds.), Research methods in human rights: A handbook (pp. 38–67). Edward Elgar Publishing. DOI:

McNevin, A. (2011). Contesting citizenship: Irregular migrants and new frontiers of the political. Columbia University Press. DOI:

McNevin, A. (2013). Ambivalence and citizenship: Theorising the political claims of irregular migrants. Millennium: Journal of International Studies, 41(2), 182–200. DOI:

McNevin, A. (2020). Time and the figure of the citizen. International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society, 33(4), 545–559. DOI:

Miaz, J. (2021). The adversarial co-production of law. The role of legal intermediaries in the judicialization of the Swiss Asylum Policy. Droit et Société, 107(1), 51–66. DOI:

MSS v. Belgium and Greece, Application no. 3069/09. (2011). European Court of Human Rights.

Nicholls, W. J. (2013). The DREAMers: How the undocumented youth movement transformed the immigrant rights debate. Stanford University Press. DOI:

Nicholls, W. J. (2014). From political opportunities to niche-openings: The dilemmas of mobilizing for immigrant rights in inhospitable environments. Theory and Society: Renewal and Critique in Social Theory, 43(1), 23–49. DOI:

Niezna, M., Kurlander, Y., & Shamir, H. (2021). Underlying conditions: The increased vulnerability of migrant workers under COVID-19 in Israel. Journal of Modern Slavery: A Multidisciplinary Exploration of Human Trafficking Soutions, 6(2), 133-158. DOI:

Nyers, P. (2010). Abject cosmopolitanism: The politics of protection in the anti-deporation movement. In N. De Genova & N. Peutz (Eds.), The deportation regime: Sovereignty, space, and the freedom of movement (pp. 413-442). Duke University Press. DOI:

Oliveri, F. (2016). Struggles at the boundaries of neoliberal citizenship: Theorizing immigrant-led movements in contemporary Europe. In A. Amelina, K. Horvath, & B. Meeus (Eds.), An anthology of migration and social transformation: European perspectives (pp. 263–279). Springer International Publishing . DOI:

Oliveri, F. (2018). Racialization and counter-racialization in times of crisis: Taking migrant struggles in Italy as a critical standpoint on race. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 41(10), 1855–1873. DOI:

Ombudsman Metropool Amsterdam. (2021). Onzichtbaar: Onderzoek naar de leefwereld van ongedocumenteerden in Amsterdam en Nederland.

Oomen, B., & Baumgärtel, M. (2018). Frontier cities: The rise of local authorities as an opportunity for international human rights law. European Journal of International Law, 29(2), 607–630. DOI:

Palma-Gutierrez, M. (2021). A transitory settlement on the way back to Venezuela: A tale of vulnerability, exception, and migrant resistance in times of COVID-19. REMHU: Revista Interdisciplinar Da Mobilidade Humana, 29(61), 121–144. DOI:

Perinçek v. Switzerland, Application no. 27510/08. (2015, October 15). European Court of Human Rights.

Peroni, L., & Timmer, A. (2013). Vulnerable groups: The promise of an emerging concept in European Human Rights Convention law. International Journal of Constitutional Law, 11(4), 1056–1085. DOI:

Pugach v. Belarus. (2015, July 15). Human Rights Committee, Communication No. 1984/2010. UNCHR.

Rygiel, K. (2011). Bordering solidarities: Migrant activism and the politics of movement and camps at Calais. Citizenship Studies, 15(1), 1–19. DOI:

Shachar, A. (2020). The shifting border: Legal cartographies of migration and mobility Ayelet Shachar in dialogue. Manchester University Press. DOI:

Sharif Baban v. Australia. (2003, August 6). Human Rights Committee Communication No. 1014/2001. UNCHR.

Slingenberg, L. (2021). Deservingness in judicial discourse. An analysis of the legal reasoning adopted in Dutch case law on irregular migrant families’ access to shelter. Social Policy and Society, 20(3), 521–530. DOI:

Spencer, S. (2020). Cities breaking the mould? Municipal inclusion of irregular migrants in Europe. In S. Spencer & A. Triandafyllidou (Eds.), Migrants with irregular status in Europe: Evolving conceptual and policy challenges (pp. 187–205). Springer International Publishing. DOI:

Spencer, S., & Delvino, N. (2019). Municipal activism on irregular migrants: The framing of inclusive approaches at the local level. Journal of Immigrant & Refugee Studies, 17(1), 27–43. DOI:

Spradley, J. P. (1980). Participant observation. Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Stierl, M., & Tazzioli, M. (2021). Toward an archive of migrant struggles: Critique and the materiality of justice. In G. Grappi (Ed.), Migration and the contested politics of justice: Europe and the global dimension (pp. 227-241). Routledge. DOI:

Turner, L. (2021). The politics of labeling refugee men as “vulnerable.” Social Politics: International Studies in Gender, State & Society, 28(1), 1–23. DOI:

van Meeteren, M., & Sur, M. (2020). Territorial ironies: Deservingness as a struggle for migrant legitimacy in Belgium. International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society, 33(4), 575–589. DOI:

Van Walsum, S. (2011). Regulating migrant domestic work in the Netherlands: Opportunities and pitfalls. Canadian Journal of Women and the Law, 23(1), 141–165. DOI:

Waite, L., Lewis, H., Dwyer, P., & Hodkinson, S. (2015). Precarious lives: Refugees and asylum seekers’ resistance within unfree labouring. ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies, 14(2), 479-491.

Webley, L. (2016, October). Stumbling blocks in empirical legal research: Case study research. Law and Method. DOI:

Wet arbeid vremdelingen 1994 (NL), section 2, article 2.

Ziegler, R. (2017). Voting rights of refugees. Cambridge University Press. DOI:

Ziegler, R. (2021). Political rights of aliens: Articles 10, 11 and 16 of the ECHR and article 3 of Additional Protocol 1. In D. Moya & G. Milios (Eds.), Aliens before the European Court of Human Rights: Ensuring minimum standards of human rights protection (pp. 172–190). Brill. DOI:

Zivi, K. (2012). Making rights claims: A practice of democratic citizenship. Oxford University Press. DOI:

Zwaan, K., Terlouw, A., Strik, T., Oosterom-Staples, H., De Lange, T., Grutters, C., & Fernhout, R. (2018). Nederlands Migratierecht (2nd ed.). Boom Juridisch.



How to Cite

Dez, J. F. (2022). Print Rights with a Thousand Masks: Migrant Vulnerability, Resistance and Human Rights Law. Refuge: Canada’s Journal on Refugees, 38(2), 1–17.