Immigration and the War on Crime: Law and Order Politics and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996

Report Author: 
Patrisia Macías-Rojas
Original Date of Publication: 
2018 Jan

This study focuses on events leading up to the passage of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) of 1996 that recast undocumented immigration as a crime and fused immigration enforcement with crime control. The author suggests that the act may have had less to do with immigration and more to do with "crime politics and the policies of mass incarceration" that dominated the national discourse in the 25 years preceding passage of the act. Ronald Reagan's Drug War tripled the prison population and pushed hundreds of thousands of Americans into already overcrowded prisons. Overcrowded prisons and detention centers prompted legislators to introduce measures to deport "alien felons" in order to free up beds. Such measures were championed by leaders in both parties, who seemed to vie with each other to appear "tough on crime." The rhetoric of immigrant overcrowding in jails spread to other arenas, as undocumented immigrants were accused of "crowding" schools, hospitals, and labor markets. The "rhetoric of overcrowding garnered support for punitive federal and state-level anti-immigration laws, while masking the crime politics from which such measures emerged." The author believes that her findings "warrant rethinking IIRIRA's criminal provisions - from criminal enforcement priorities to fast-track deportations to mandatory detention and immigrant incarceration and federal appropriations - that have legitimized branding entire groups of people as criminal so as to exclude them." (Diversity Dynamics)

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Citation: 

Macías-Rojas, P. (2018). Immigration and the War on Crime: Law and Order Politics and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996. Journal on Migration and Human Security, 6(1), 1–25. https://doi.org/10.14240/jmhs.v6i1.110

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