The days of widely tolerated prejudice against Latino individuals in the United States have long passed. But in a recent paper, "Perpetuating the Marginalization of Latinos: A Collateral Consequence of the Incorporation of Immigration Law into the Criminal Justice System," University of Pennsylvania Law School Professor Yolanda Vazquez argues that crimmigration – the comingling of criminal and immigration law – has replaced overt discrimination as the modern day apparatus for extending a history of Latino exclusion, discrimination, and marginalization in this country.
According to Vazquez, immigration and criminal law have become so intertwined that the enforcement, detention, and removal of immigrants pervades every aspect of the criminal justice system. At the same time, several systemic changes have spurred an increase in removals of non-citizens based on criminal convictions. These include a decrease in the number of remedies available to immigrants convicted of crimes in immigration court, and an increase in the number of criminal convictions that have become removable offenses (that is, offenses for which an immigrant can be deported).
Vazquez points to stark statistics to show that the number of immigrants deported due to criminal convictions has increased dramatically with the rise of crimmigration, and that the effects of crimmigration have been disproportionately borne by Latino immigrants. In 2004, for example, 88,897 noncitizen individuals were removed from the United States for criminal convictions; by 2009, that number had risen to 128,000. And while Latinos represent 53.1% of immigrants living in the United States, they account for 94% of the total number of noncitizens removed from the United States for criminal violations.
Vazquez argues that American lawmakers and society – using rhetoric that immigrants have increasingly been responsible for crime and terror in the United States – have sanctioned the incorporation of immigration consequences into the criminal justice system. But the hard data actually shows a lack of nexus between dangerous crime and immigrants removed.
In 2009, for example, the three leading causes of immigrants being removed from the United States based on what the Department of Homeland Security categorized as criminal convictions were drug crimes (including simple possession and manufacturing), traffic offenses, and immigration-related offenses. As for crimes that might truly be considered violent or dangerous, such as terrorism, murder or sexual assault, none appeared to be a leading or even considerable cause of removal.
The lack of evidence for the dangerous criminal alien, Vazquez argues, suggests that concerns about criminal activity and national security threats are mere pretext for incorporating immigration consequences into the criminal justice system.
Although the incorporation of immigration law into the criminal justice system has failed to address or reduce dangerous or terrorist crime, according to Vazquez, it has had an incredibly detrimental impact on the Latino community. She argues that the impact of crimmigration on the U.S. Latino population is not confined to those individuals deported each year. Rather, crimmigration perpetuates the marginalization of the Latino population by entrenching a “criminal alien” social construct. That is, the commingling of criminal and immigration law perpetuates a view of Latinos as criminals, “illegals,” individuals incapable of social assimilation, and instigators of social chaos.
Vazquez concludes that until Latino identity is disaggregated from the criminal and immigration contexts, discrimination against Latinos will persist in a state-sanctioned, society-approved form. She implores lawmakers to address the only proven consequence of crimmigration – the continuation of a history of marginalization of Latinos – in order to ensure justice and equality for the millions of Latinos living in the United States.