Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Immigration and Crime: A marriage of convenience (to politicians)

As the presidential campaign continues it becomes clear that American political leaders are in no way willing to level with Americans about how complicated the immigration issues in this country are let alone craft a comprehensive approach that would bring immigrant workers who lack legal documentation out of the shadows. In the absence of serious movement toward a comprehensive solution you can count on one thing, get-tough policies that emphasize the relationship between immigration and crime will continue to get emphasized regardless of how little such policies do to relieve the serious social problems created by a black market in labor, nor how cruel the consequences for individuals and families.

As Julia Preston reports in today's NYT, the current head of our Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (that spells ICE, another example of our government's love affair with tough-sounding acronyms, of course ICE melts along the border) is promising to emphasize two forms of crime control of immigration. One approach, which builds on laws and policies that have been enacted starting in the 1990s, focuses on more efficiently deporting non-citizens who have been convicted of crimes and are serving time in American jails and prisons. Many of these people are not "illegal immigrants," but legal immigrants who have been convicted of the same sorts of crimes that citizens are. Under current law, many crimes including relatively minor ones are defined as "aggravated felonies" for purposes of immigration law and require mandatory deportation regardless of the equities involved (it might be the mother of citizen children, convicted of a minor drug possession crime). ICE is promising to speed up the deportation process as a way of relieving the burden on state and local governments.

The second policy promised is an increased crackdown on employers who hire workers without documentation of citizenship or legal residence.

Based on passed experience, neither policy will do anything to stem the flow of immigrants nor make their lives here safer and more governed by law. What they do promise to do is further reinforce the bogus link that has been established in the public mind between immigration and crime.


This is not just an American problem. After a video camera in Munich caught two young non-citizens (one Turkish) beating up a pensioner on the subway, Germany's politicians are calling for tough sanctions against foreign juveniles convicted of crime. Read Nicholas Kulish's reporting in the NYTimes.

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