Governing Immigration Through Crime


Stanford University Press
March 2013
Purchase at Amazon

A frequent argument against the pathway to citizenship is the one used by Senator Cruz in his closing statements before the Senate Judiciary Committee on S.744.  He cited the rule of law, but most Americans would point to the simple fact that the illegal immigrants broke the law and should not be rewarded for it. Those holding this perspective forget that immigration does not actually fall within criminal law but civil law.  For some context: your marriage, your divorce, your law suit against your neighbor for their dog biting you, all this falls under civil law. Murders, robberies, those are the sort of things prosecuted under criminal law.  In recent years, especially since 9/11, the idea of illegal immigrants violating the law has conflated their public image with law breakers who fall under the latter category rather than the former. This, coupled with the increased detention and deportation of illegal immigrants, has happened incrementally. As with many questionable treatments of non-citizens, this does not raise a cry from much of the majority.

The recently published reader, Governing Immigration Through Crime, is a collection of theoretical explanations and arguments relating to the interconnecting aspects of the enforcement of immigration law within the United States. Governing attempts to explore the criminalization of illegal immigration and the resulting governmental structures. As a reader, all of these essays are previously published in other works, but editors Julie Dowling and Jonathan Inda do a solid job at consolidating, contextualizing, and introducing this body of work.  The introductions – both generally, and prefacing each section, would alone be useful to a student or researcher.  However, I suspect individuals unfamiliar with theory should start elsewhere.  If thinking within Foucault’s definition of “government” or navigating political theory twists your brain a bit, this is not an introduction to it. That being said, it would be a good cornerstone for a research paper on anything relating to the enforcement of immigration law, including topics on managing the border, the criminalization of immigration, interior enforcement, detention and deportation, and the immigrant activism in response to these.

Governing weaves theory, law, and relevant stories into a picture of the increasing state of “crimmigration” – or the criminalization of immigrants within the United States.  This collection first establishes that the post 9/11 years have “progressively criminalized” the existence of illegal immigrants (37).  Nicholas De Genova’s piece opens the collection and questions the racial implications of our focus on Mexico, emphasizing the fact that the increased targeting of Mexican immigrants in immigration policy since 1965 has created the illegal immigrant problem.  Juliet Stumpf draws our attention to the resemblance of immigration enforcement agencies to standard police forces – despite the non-criminal nature of immigration violations.  Leo Chavez examines the civilian groups such as the Minutemen Project that have taken on border security and the implications this has in the public sphere.  Roxanne Lynn Doty explores border crossing deaths within the political theory framework of biopower, a truly interesting argument for those (like yours truly) intrigued by the concept of bare life (see Giorgio Agamben’s 1998 Homo Sacer), but not one that has much in the way of policy implications. Two separate chapters explore the state and local efforts to control immigration, including Arizona’s S.B. 1070. Throughout this work, the racial implications of America’s immigration policy are explored, and this continues into the section on detention, where Mount Holyoke professor David Manuel Hernández suggests that detention has long been used as a tool to manage Latinos within the United States. Ending on a somewhat uplifting note, the collection concludes with articles on the pro-immigrant marches, the activism of the DREAMers, and the U.S.-Mexico border as a site of political struggle.

My biggest note of concern about this work is an unfortunate biproduct of it being a published book. Although released in late March of this year, the articles are from several years ago, and the publishing process takes some time, during which a lot has happened. The result of Arizona v. United States is not discussed, and the pending immigration reform threatens to make much of the more policy-reliant analysis obsolete upon passage. That being said, this is an excellent addition to academic dialogue. I know I would have found this collection useful when I wrote my Master’s thesis (on Arizona) last summer. It provides a framework for America’s immigration enforcement structure and would be an excellent addition to any academic library or collection as a source for research on the enforcement of the border and interior immigration policies.

One comment

  1. […] few months ago, I reviewed a reader called Governing Immigration Through Crime, in which there is an excellent article by Roxanne Lynn Doty, a professor at Arizona State […]


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