Immigration Policy, Criminalization and the Growth of the Immigration Industrial Complex: Restriction, Expulsion, and Eradication of the Undocumented in the U.S. 1

Article excerpt

Abstract: The stereotype of immigrants as a "criminal threat" has armed anti-immigrant sentiment and policy despite social scientists having consistently demonstrated that immigrants are less likely to engage in crime than are their U.S.-born counterparts. This paper critically examines the link between immigrants and crime, paying special attention to two periods of high immigration to the U.S. During the 19th century through the early 20th century, mostly ethnic white European and Asia immigrants were victims of interethnic and racial violence, culminating in policies that restricted Asians, and prompted mass expulsions of mostly Mexicanos. By the late 20th century and into the 21st century, Latinos and Asians entered en masse. The ensuing anti-immigrant sentiment and policies that sought to disenfranchise these groups, coupled with the rhetoric that evolved from "alien" to "criminal alien," have progressively served to justify the expansion of enforcement-only policies that include workplace and home sweeps, deportation, and increasingly, detention. Arguably, these forms of policing, along with contemporary immigration policies, have given rise to, and fueled, the Immigration Industrial Complex-an industry based on immigrant detainees and supported by Congressional powers. I argue that, like the rise of the Prison Industrial Complex, that along with the "war on drugs" sought to eradicate the potential political threat of post-civil rights era young black males, the Immigration Industrial Complex is a system that is being used to eradicate Latino immigrants from society; to stifle their potential social advancement stemming from the Browning of America, an imminent and perilous demographic, political, and economic threat to the degenerating white hegemonic order.

Keywords: browning of America; expulsion; eradication; hegemony; immigration and crime; immigration industrial complex; immigration policy; prison industrial complex


In this paper, I argue that racialized stereotypes of immigrants as "criminal threats" have strengthened anti-immigrant sentiment and have provided rhetorical support for policies that criminalize immigrants. These stereotypes have endured despite social scientific research demonstrating that immigrants are less likely to engage in crime than are their US-born counterparts.

Although the US prides itself as a "nation of immigrants," immigrants have historically been viewed by a sector of the public as "our oldest national problem" (Stockwell 1927), a situation which has recently prompted a rise in hate crimes against Latino immigrants, thereby justifying their disenfranchisement from fully engaging in the U.S. political landscape. Data documenting this rise in hate crimes are found in a variety of sources, most notably the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) annual Hate Crime Statistics, and in information compiled and analyzed by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).

Federal Bureau of Investigation data disclosed that in the mid- to late-1990s, ethnicity-based hate crimes against Latinos ranged from an average of 719 a year in the five years between 2005-2009, compared with an average of 646 a year in the five-year period 2000-2004, and an average of 639 a year in the five-year period 1995-1999. This represents a 12.5% increase in the most recent period compared to the earliest period for which data is available and an 11.3% increase during 2000-2004 (FBI 2010). During these same periods the annual average number of anti-immigration hate groups identified by the SPLC increased from 0 in 1995-1999, to 3.6 in 2000-2004, and 11.4 in 2005-2006, most of these being in the West, Mid-West and Plains states (SPLC 2010).

In this paper, I also examine the link between immigrants and crime, while paying keen attention to two periods of high immigration to the U.S. The first period commences in the early 19th century into the early 20th century, and a second contemporary period covers mostly Asian and Latin American immigration concentrated in the latter part of the 20th century to the present. …


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