The increase in undocumented migration into South Africa has been met with conserted , if non-uniform, efforts by the state to regulate it. What happens when undocumented migrants routinely interact with state officials responsible for policing them? Do officials eventually forget to enforce the law and begin to befriend their foe? Rather than present a state that has been ‘cannibalized'' by society, the findings from ethnographic research done in Johannesburg paint a complex picture. This narrative is a journey into the world of police culture, the monopolistic violence of the state, bribery on the beat, extortion, predatory authority, opportunism, negotiation, gift-giving, networking, and other forms of interaction. The successive and sometimes simultaneous appeal to these different registers by both law enforcement agents and undocumented migrants during everyday immigration policing in the urban spaces constantly shifts, re-draws and blurs the boundaries between the formal and the informal, the legitimate and the illegitimate, and between the state and society. How, then, does one read the construction of the modern African state?