Criminalizing Immigrants


Criminalizing Immigrants

The death of Anastasio in clearly related to the way that undocumented immigrants have been constructed as criminals and hyper-policed in American society. Since the 1970s, crime and punishment have become an increasingly central means through which political authorities in the United States seek to govern the conduct of individuals and populations. Jonathan Simon refers to such development as ‘governing through crime’. This way of governing is clearly visible in such measures as quality of life campaigns and zero tolerance policing, harsher penalties and the extensive utilization of imprisonment, three strikes and compulsory minimum sentencing policies, redress in juvenile court and the incarceration of minors, immigrant detention centers, and more extensive parole restrictions.

Governing through crime is further visible in the common practice of securitizing private spaces as a way of dealing with crime risks and insecurities. The most notable manifestations of this practice are undoubtedly gated communities. These fortified enclaves are segregated spatial enclosures designed to provide safe, orderly, and secure environments for those who dwell within them. The rationale for governing through crime seems to be twofold. On the one hand, the thinking is that irresponsible individuals must be held accountable for their misdeeds. And on the other, it is that responsible citizens must protect themselves and be protected from the mass of anti-citizens who threaten their security and quality of life.

This contemporary emphasis on governing through crime has had a significant impact on how undocumented migration is problematized and managed. In fact, undocumented migration has come to be seen largely as a law and order issue in the United States. Since the early 1990s, the United States has witnessed a rather strong wave of anti-immigrant sentiment—a trend that has only intensified in the post-9/11 context. From social scientists, immigration officials, and policy analysts, to immigration reform organizations and the public at large, it has been common for individuals and groups to cast unauthorized migrants—typically imagined as Mexican—as threats to the overall well-being and security of the social body. The fundamental problem with the undocumented has been deemed to be their illegality—the ‘fact’ that they do not have a legal right to be in the United States. Thus, for some people, to be an ‘illegal’ immigrant is to be inherently a lawbreaker. It is to be necessarily a criminal.

In addition to being constructed as lawbreakers, the undocumented have routinely been linked to a host of other problems. For example, they have been associated with such cultural, social, and economic maladies as overpopulation, deteriorating schools, urban crime and decay, energy shortages, and national disunity. Furthermore, they have been accused of displacing American workers, depressing wages, spreading diseases, and burdening public services. All of these problems are seen as compounding the fundamental problem of immigrant criminality.



Popular anti-immigration imagery, reads 'I'm not against immigration. I'm against an invasion of illegal aliens who are flooding our country and leeching off my tax dollars'.

Popular anti-immigration imagery, reads 'Illegal immigration crisis is hard to solve? May be we should start with cutting all the benefits to illegal aliens and stop rewarding these criminals for breaking the law?'. There is a thumbs up at the bottom with text 'Great idea!'

Popular anti-immigration imagery reads, 'what part of ILLEGAL don't you understand?'

Popular imagery representing undocumented immigrants as criminals. Reads 'Illegals are not immigrants they are criminals. Send them back! Re-post the truth!'
Popular imagery representing undocumented immigrants as criminals.



































[imagecaption]These images are all popular memes circulating in mass culture in the United States. They are sometimes used as bumper stickers or buttons.[/imagecaption]


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