Law in Contemporary Society

Impact of Crimmigration on Immigrant Youth

-- By FeliciaReyes - 26 Apr 2022

Who is deserving of protection?

In 2010, the Georgia Board of Regents adopted harsh anti-immigrant policies that made it virtually impossible for undocumented students to attend Georgia State schools. See Regents Adopt New Policies on Undocumented Students, 2010. Freedom University was an organization created out of response to this policy. Its mission centered on classroom style learning for undocumented students who wanted to attend university, but couldn’t. The organization also created a safe space for these students to connect with professors and others who were ardently fighting against the policy change. Freedom University launched several campaigns which focused on the fact that the students being denied admission are good people, who want to contribute to society and are therefore deserving of the chance to do that.

My visit with these students was incredibly inspiring, but it left me thinking about who was deserving of being embraced in this country? Who was deserving of protection? What about those funneled into the criminal justice system? The data is well-established. Young, impressionable people living in communities plagued by poverty and over-criminalization are more likely to be involved in the juvenile justice system. Immigrant communities are not exempt from these issues, and oftentimes are more vulnerable. However, for justice-impacted youth who are undocumented, there is an added stressor of detainment and deportation.

Freedom University’s mission is an important one that was called to fight for specific group of people. Through expansion, it would be wonderful to explore what it means to fight for change for undocumented youth who are not college-bound. Particularly, undocumented young people who have had run-ins with the law and wouldn’t be considered “good contributing members of society,” by those outside the community.

The intersection of immigration and criminal law

Crimmigration is a concept that focuses on the intersection of criminal law and immigration law. At this intersection, we see local law enforcement working in conjunction with federal immigration officials to surveil, round-up, and detain immigrants.

During the Trump Administration, there was a strong emphasis on “criminal immigrant youth” that resulted in large sweeps and raids throughout the United States. The administration targeted a Salvadoran-American street gang known as MS13. New York, in particular, is home to 560,000 undocumented people and about 1 million New Yorkers live in mixed status households. State of our Immigrant City: Annual Report, 2018. Nearly 37% of undocumented immigrants living in New York City have less than a high school degree. Id. at 15. A majority of these immigrants reside in working-class neighborhoods due to a lack of social and human capital and in marginalized communities, youth are often exposed to multiple levels of trauma and criminalization, resulting in high rates of contact with the criminal justice system.

Criminalizing immigrant youth is seen lucidly through the school-to-prison- and many times to deportation pipeline. For example, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) launched Operation Matador in 2017 to target gang members and associates in the Greater New York area. Essentially, they work with local law enforcement and use gang databases to identify possible gang members. At the time, these databases were unregulated and criteria for inclusion was arbitrary; people who wear certain clothing and those who talk to “known” gang members were oftentimes included on this list. Swept up in the Sweep, 2018. “One clear outcome of Matador has been the increase of unwarranted and unsubstantiated gang allegations being used as a basis to detain immigrants, or to deny applications for benefits such as Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) or asylum.” Id. at 19. Under Matador there have been 729 “suspected gang members” arrested and 5,300 deportations in 2017 alone. Id. at 19. This data shows us the impact immigration and criminal justice policy has had on young people who grew up in the States and who have been affected by the same social factors as U.S.-born youth. However, it also shows us they have suffered significant consequences on the basis of their citizenship status.

What’s the impact?

Given the U.S.’s racial diversity, continuous criminalization and pipeline funneling will further disempower the most vulnerable populations causing greater socioeconomic disparities, inducing fear of law enforcement in immigrant communities and creating stronger systemic oppression through the criminalization of undocumented youth. Consequently, this then becomes a disinvestment in the next generation.

The question should not be whether these young people are worthy of protection, but rather how we can protect them. Unfortunately, not protecting them hurts more than just the individual, it can also have drastic consequences on both the family and community at large. Therefore, building off the work from organizations, like Freedom University, we would create a coalition that is expansive and inclusive enough to fight for immigrants from all backgrounds, who’ve had varied experiences living in the U.S.

When we write about "what the question should be," we either put that idea in the introduction or the conclusion. When we begin by proposing a change in question, we are inviting people who have disagreed with us to ask a new question and perhaps change their minds. When we conclude by stating what the question should be, we are appealing to those who agree with us and distributing talking points. Lawyers do both kinds of writing.

This draft is indeed of the latter kind. Rubi's comment strongly resonates with this very effective summons to differentiate from potential allies who are not speaking to the needs or situations of those on whose behalf your thinking is expressed.

I am not advising editorially that you should shift the question to the top, addressing those whose views about who should be protected are flatly different. Nativism, like so many other elements of the present "polarization," is a chronic disease in US social life, now mistreated into an acute condition, sweeping (as Know-Nothingism did in the US in the 1850s) a dying party system towards the dust-heap of history. Now as then, dialogue across these divides is barely possible.

But the management of alliances is a different matter. A draft of talking points that used "and" rather than "but" to deal with the admittedly class-stratified efforts for educational opportunity presented by other advocates down the block would be invaluable. In any social movement, in my experience, forms of policy and political initiative that counteract narcissism of minor differences are precious. Political scientists call it "coalition building," as do primatologists. From a humanities point of view, other conceptions are also fruitful. Differentiation doesn't have to imply opposition. It might be worth considering revisions along those lines, for—as it were—the practice.

-Thank you Professor Moglen —I really appreciate this perspective and has helped me rearrange my essay!

Felicia, thank you for sharing your thoughts on this topic. As you and I have discussed, Freedom U was an incredible program that stepped in to care for undocumented youth in Georgia. The 'model minority' narrative often used in immigrant rights activist circles, however, creates a detriment to the greater cause of racial justice, and I am really glad you pointed that out. I learned of Operation Matador back when I was working at the Young Center (which I'll also be interning with this summer), and similar to what you said, kids are being targeted by ICE officials based on phony evidence and racist biases.

Reading your essay also made me think about something I observed growing up in Georgia. There are many ways in which crimmigration directly impacts communities of color, but I feel that it has not reached a level of public awareness enough for immigrant and Black communities to see the parallels. In my home state, for example, there has been gradual progress of immigrant communities and Black American activists working together. But it has taken some time because of the South's reckoning with its segregationist past. Immigrants were perceived as an inconvenience to the already tumultuous racial relations in the state, and non-Black immigrants often bring with them anti-Black sentiments. My hope is that, through the expansion of scholarship on crimmigration and more attorneys in the South focusing on that intersection, new and stronger efforts are created to raise public awareness on the inextricable connection between the immigration and criminal legal systems.

- Rubí

-Rubí, thank you for commenting on my paper! At the time, I understood that Freedom University was addressing a very specific issue (which is likely why they focused in on college students), but it would be interesting to explore more about what is happening on the immigrant rights front in the South (and what Freedom U. is up to now!)

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r5 - 06 Jun 2022 - 06:16:09 - FeliciaReyes
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