Creating Crimmigration



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Guest post by César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández, visiting professor at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, and author of the blog.

Crimmigration is now a fact of life and law in the United States. It is hard to deny that the consequences for migrants of getting caught up in the criminal justice system have never been greater. Every day unprecedented numbers of people are criminally prosecuted for having violated immigration law. Every night tens of thousands of migrants are holed up behind bars in a county jail or stand-alone immigration prison waiting to learn whether they will be allowed to remain in the United States.

It is equally difficult deny that immigration law enforcement and criminal law enforcement have become a single messy policing entanglement. Secure Communities and 287(g) programs have oiled the sanctioning pipeline from an initial encounter with a local cop to a final encounter with an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent. Meanwhile, Operation Streamline and fast-track plea agreements have created a highly efficient and extraordinary apparatus that, unlike immigration law formally deemed civil, does not even have to pretend to be non-punitive.

It may have taken us some time, but scholars have finally begun to catch on to these developments. A growing group of academics around the world have started to identify crimmigration law’s contours. In the United States, for example, Juliet Stumpf detailed in her landmark article The Crimmigration Crisis: Immigrants, Crime, and Sovereign Power the creation of “parallel systems in which immigration law and the criminal justice system are merely nominally separate” (p. 376), and Jennifer Chacón has described efforts to “handle

Ezekiel Hernández, Jr.
Soon the strong-armed tactics that the state had deployed in the war on drugs became features of immigration policing. Immigration law enforcement agencies were showered with money and resources—between 1981 and 1988 the Immigration and Naturalization Service, for example, saw its funding increase by 130% and staff by 41%. The nation’s detention capability grew dramatically, going from approximately 1,700 beds in 1982 to 7,400 in 1988. Under the guise of anti-drug activity, the military even became involved in immigration regulation by helping the Border Patrol capture clandestine entrants. In 1997 this relationship proved fatal when Marines patrolling the Texas border shot and killed Ezekiel Hernández, Jr., an eighteen-year-old United States citizen who was tending to his family’s livestock when the Marines mistook him for a drug trafficker.

The merger of criminal law and immigration law allowed for a unified front against the threat ostensibly facing the law-abiding public. Police agents of all variety were sent into the streets to watch, identify, and apprehend outlaws of multiple sorts—the kind selling drugs, working without authorization, present without permission. Unlike before, when undesirability was explicitly determined by race, in the age of metaphorical wars against crime and drugs, undesirability became pegged to criminality. In turn, criminality became tied, implicitly, to race and immigrants were raced as nonwhite. Law enforcement agents were given the task of physically removing from the body politic unwanted elements. Given the nation’s appreciation of confinement, law enforcement authorities were thought to be successful if the lawbreakers were in the prisons, excluded from the law-abiding community and under the government’s control. And so they have, launching the age of crimmigration.

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style): Hernández C (2014) Creating Crimmigration. Available at: (accessed [date]).

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