Faculty of law blogs / UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD

Police, Politics and the Immigration-Crime Nexus


Federico Luis Abiuso


Time to read

5 Minutes

Guest post by Federico Luis Abiuso. Federico has a Ph.D. in Social Sciences and is a sociologist and Professor of Sociology (University of Buenos Aires, Argentina). In his CONICET postdoctoral fellowship, he studied the links between politics, police, immigration and crime in the City of Buenos Aires in the period between 2015 and 2019. He is Professor of Social Research Methodology at the University of Buenos Aires, University of Belgrano and National University of Arts. E-mail: abiusofederico@yahoo.com.ar 


In December 2023, my book, titled Police, Politics and the Immigration-Crime Nexus   was published by Palgrave Macmillan. It is the product of research developed between 2020 and 2023 within the framework of a Postdoctoral fellowship granted by National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET, by its initials in Spanish). Under the supervision of professors Máximo Sozzo and Néstor Cohen, I explored the relations between police, politics and the immigration-crime nexus in the City of Buenos Aires between 2015 and 2019, in the context of Mauricio Macri’s administration. For the research, I drew on theoretical frameworks and perspectives from the sociology of the police and the sociology of migration, although the book seeks to open a dialogue with other disciplines and fields of knowledge as well. 

I analysed such relationships through three empirical domains: political discourses pronounced by officials around the immigration-crime association, secondary quantitative data regarding police practices of arrest of migrants and semi-structured interviews with migrants belonging to different ethnic-national groups. The majority were Senegalese and Venezuelan migrants, due to their greater visibility in the streets of the former and the increase experienced by Venezuelan migration between 2015 and 2019. 

Due to the quarantine regime in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, interviews with Venezuelan migrants, carried out between 2020 and 2021, were conducted virtually. This raised different challenges. First, not all of the selected interviewees had access to a platform to conduct the interview via video call. Secondly, for those who did have access, there were technical difficulties, in terms of audio, either due to computer problems, or ambient noise in the case those who chose to have the interview in a public place. Third, unlike the face-to-face interviews, the setting could not facilitate an environment of trust between interviewer and interviewee. There were interruptions and moments when the interviewee was engaging with other people present in the room. Lastly, it was difficult to gauge non-verbal communication, as well as to have a broad record of that kind of communication, considering that this complements the verbal aspect of the story. Whether in its face-to-face or virtual modality, I obtained significant testimonies on a variety of themes (interactions between police and migrants, narratives of police violence, the nexus between police and politics, among others), analysed in detail in different chapters of the book. 

picture of Buenos Aires street

Although in the first instance I thought of presenting the results of my research in Spanish, when the possibility of publishing it in English arose, I had to reorient it to a broader audience. The English version seeks to bring together the perspective from Argentina with other regions of the world such as United Kingdom, Italy, France and United States, among others. With this survey, I tried to overcome an obstacle in the literature read so far: the fact that each dimension is worked on in isolation and separated from each other, when one of the merits of the book is to gather background information on different dimensions (police and politics, police and migration, and immigration and crime) in one single place. 

Considering that in Argentina, there is a lack of official statistical information on police arrests of migrants, I collected and presented different sources to reconstruct a quantitative panorama of police practices for the period between 2015 and 2019. The comparative reading of those sources, through a rigorous and adequate methodological surveillance,  illustrating different institutions and various ways of producing their data on police arrests and institutional violence situations. 

More concretely, foreign victims of institutional violence rose between 2018 and 2019 (from 24 to 27%). The arrests of foreigners made by the Buenos Aires City Police, in turn, rose from 15 to 16% between 2017 and 2018 and remained at that number in 2019. According to other sources, the percentages of foreign victims of institutional violence increased in 2015-2017, and decreased slightly in 2018-2019. Regarding the foreign nationalities, most of the sources emphasized the Senegalese population. Police sources repeat similar trends between 2017 and 2019 by alternating the percentages between 2% and 5% among Peruvian, Paraguayan and Bolivian origin population. In annual reports, the increase in the percentage of “Not Informed” nationality is of note, which may be due to the risk of receiving retaliation for denouncing. 

I complement this with a qualitative component, through the testimonies gathered in semi-structured interviews with Senegalese and Venezuelan migrants. I highlight five interpretations according to which the interviewees describe that the police give the foreign person a differentiated treatment: lack of knowledge of the “other”, racism, lack of communication, sharing the same workplace with the police, and having an accent that is perceived as different from the Argentine.  

Regarding the lack of knowledge, one of the interviewee pointed out that sometimes the police do not take into consideration that he is foreign, that the institutions do not know him, that perhaps he is very strong, or that he is very big, tall, etc., and if is the case to confront that person, two or three policemen confront him. This vision, which see the migrant as ‘unknown’, creates prejudice such as overgeneralization and falsehood, both pointed out by Bowling, Reiner and Sheptycki.   

Sometimes, a halo of racism surrounds these stories. As pointed out by the same interviewee, police treatment differs because, among other aspects, the Senegalese is a black person. We can here highlight the ways in which racial prejudice operates as one of the core characteristics of cop cultures: as a ‘cop nose’ that guides their practices. In this sense, certain ideas associated with height, strength, size and skin colour may imply a differential treatment by the police between an Argentine and a Senegalese migrant. 

Lack of communication is another important factor arising from interview narratives: language plays a crucial role in the contacts between police and migrants. As other researchers alike have highlighted, language is a problematic aspect when Senegalese street sellers defend themselves against the police displacing them from their workplaces. At times, interviewees themselves had to go assist their fellow detainees in police stations in matters of language. 

Different police treatment is also highlighted by interviewees due to sharing workplaces on the streets with the police. In this sense, one of the interviewees affirmed that the collisions between Senegalese and police officers were “normal”, given and considering that both have the same place of work: the street. Some to survive from the sale of merchandise, others to carry out their daily patrol routines. It is a population that, due to these conditions, is in conditions of greater “availability” for police action. 

Lastly, interviewees identified different police attitudes based on having an accent that is perceived as different from the Argentine. In this sense, a migrant pronouncing a different accent allow concluding and showing that is not from “here”, and thus enabling differential treatment by security forces. 

In sum, by focusing on the spatial dimension, the testimonies empirically support a classical and recurrent premise in the sociology of police: that police institutions contribute to the reproduction and maintenance of a certain social order, but above all, a spatial order that defines both inclusions and exclusions from certain zones of the city; as well as displacements and borders.  

To conclude, the book constitutes an invitation to decolonize the criminal question (see the work by Aliverti, Carvalho, Chamberlen and Sozzo), to decentralize the production of knowledge about the criminal question with respect to the Global North, providing a theoretical and empirically research situated from the Global South, and particularly, rooted in Argentina. That is to say, a way to counteract the so far centrality of the Global North as a sphere of production of scientific knowledge.  

It is also a call for other researchers looking to explore this police, politics and immigration-crime nexus in their own countries as well, and - why not - the starting point of a comparative work at an international level, which appropriates the tools provided by Border Criminologies and other perspectives alike. 


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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style):

F. Abiuso. (2024) Police, Politics and the Immigration-Crime Nexus. Available at:https://blogs.law.ox.ac.uk/border-criminologies-blog/blog-post/2024/05/police-politics-and-immigration-crime-nexus. Accessed on: 18/06/2024

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