Governing Immigration through Crime: A Reader

Governing Immigration through Crime: A Reader

Governing Immigration through Crime: A Reader

Governing Immigration through Crime: A Reader


In the United States, immigration is generally seen as a law and order issue. Amidst increasing anti-immigrant sentiment, unauthorized migrants have been cast as lawbreakers. Governing Immigration Through Crime offers a comprehensive and accessible introduction to the use of crime and punishment to manage undocumented immigrants.

Presenting key readings and cutting-edge scholarship, this volume examines a range of contemporary criminalizing practices: restrictive immigration laws, enhanced border policing, workplace audits, detention and deportation, and increased policing of immigration at the state and local level. Of equal importance, the readings highlight how migrants have managed to actively resist these punitive practices. In bringing together critical theorists of immigration to understand how the current political landscape propagates the view of the "illegal alien" as a threat to social order, this text encourages students and general readers alike to think seriously about the place of undocumented immigrants in American society.


Jonathan Xavier Inda and Julie A. Dowling

On May 12, 2008, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), in a massive action involving more than nine hundred agents, raided the Agriprocessors kosher meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa (Rhodes 2008; Camayd-Freixas 2009). Three-hundred and eightynine suspected undocumented immigrants, mainly of Guatemalan and Mexican origins, were taken into custody that day. Normally these workers would have “simply” faced deportation for being present in the United States without authorization. However, under the aggressive immigration enforcement regime of the George W. Bush administration, the vast majority—305 people—were detained on criminal charges (US ICE 2008a). They were accused of using fraudulent Social Security documents and false or stolen identities. Ultimately, most of these individuals pleaded guilty to Social Security fraud and were sentenced to five months in prison. Following their jail sentences, they were to be deported.

The arrestees were not the only ones affected by the raid. There was plenty of “collateral damage.” The immigrants’ families were particularly hard hit. Many lost their primary breadwinner. Husbands were separated from wives, parents from children, and siblings from each other. The community of Postville also suffered. In the immediate aftermath of

Jonathan Xavier Inda is associate professor of Latina/Latino Studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana
Champaign. Julie A. Dowling is assistant professor of Latina/Latino Studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana

1. Many terms can be used to describe those people who enter or reside in the United States without official
authorization. In this chapter, we oscillate between two sets of terms: illegal/illicit and undocumented/unauthorized.
The former terms are the more popular and politically charged. They are widely used in government and public
discourses to draw a link between unauthorized immigrants and criminality—to highlight the conviction that cross
ing into or living in the United States without documents is a criminal act. The latter terms, undocumented/unauthor
, are commonly used in academic and progressive circles as less politically loaded alternatives. They signal that
although certain people may not have official permission to enter or live in the United States, this does not necessar
ily make them criminals. Our general preference is to use the latter terms. However, because this book focuses on
how immigrants are governed through crime, we deemed it necessary to use the terms illegal and illicit to indicate
such criminalization. We thus move back and forth between undocumented/unauthorized and illegal/illicit to convey
both our personal preferences and those of society at large. Also, because using the terms undocumented and illegal
constantly to qualify the words immigrant and migrant can be rather cumbersome, we sometimes use only immigrant
or migrant by itself. By doing this, we do not mean to reduce all immigration to undocumented immigration.

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