Monday, July 9, 2007

The spiral of governing through crime: Pushing Illegal Immigration Toward Crime

If governing through crime just meant a set of governmental techniques and mentalities used to address a fixed set of human behaviors known as crimes, it would be at least, self limiting. What is particularly distressing is its inevitable tendency to escalate, to identify and even generate new behaviors as crimes, and to produce as a by-product ever more insecurity about crime. This is what might be usefully thought of as its malignant process. Just like cells that cannot follow the body's normal signals to limit growth become a cancer, governing through crime threatens to continue to spread throughout the body politic.

Case in point, immigration law and enforcement. For decades we have been addressing the issue of unauthorized immigration through a greater emphasis on crime control tactics. But as the structure of enforcement is tightened, it actually pushes many of those immigrants into behaviors that mimic, if they do not actually produce the harm of, crime.

A recent article by Anna Gorman in the LA Times, “Theft of Identity Compounds the Crime," profiles just such a dynamic. As a result of increasing pressure on businesses that hire illegal aliens, more employers are adopting the Department of Homeland Security's Basic Pilot program which enables them to quickly discover whether a social security number presented by an employee is valid. The tactic is forcing illegal immigrants who want to obtain jobs to purchase real social security numbers. While the immigrants do not generally intend to use that information to create credit card and other frauds, they are participating in a crime that often does produce just such a result and which is increasingly feared by consumers.

Thus the practices of illegal immigrants have moved from a victimless crime to one with real (even if unharmed) victims. The result will be demands for more enforcement against both illegal immigration and identity thefts.

"There is no will in this administration to enforce the law," said Rosemary Jenks, director of governmental relations for Numbers USA, an anti-illegal immigration group. "Every person who is working illegally has committed a crime because they have either used fake documents, stolen documents or they have made their own."


Unknown said...

I'm surprised that you haven't blogged about the revitalized discussion on putting security cameras in public places in New York. To me, that's a perfect example of governing through crime.

Jonathan Simon said...

They are discussing doing this in SF as well (must do something). I've seen some evidence from the UK (where they are super saturated), that they raise anxiety and fear levels in the public because they are constant reminder of the possibility of crime. Of course they make it possible to find striking images of real criminals and terrorists after the fact.