Crimmigration at the Local Level: Criminal Justice Processes in the Shadow of Deportation

Date01 March 2015
Published date01 March 2015
Crimmigration at the Local Level: Criminal Justice
Processes in the Shadow of Deportation
Katherine Beckett Heather Evans
In recent decades, authorities have adopted a number of programs that tether
the criminal and immigration enforcement apparatuses in novel ways. This
mixed methods case study assesses the impact of such programs on local crim-
inal justice processes and outcomes in King County, Washington. Although
the empirical research on the effects of such programs is scant, the emerging
literature on legal hybridity suggests that the enmeshment of the criminal and
immigration systems is likely to enhance the state’s power to detain and pun-
ish. The quantitative results support this hypothesis: non-citizens flagged by
immigration authorities stay in jail significantly longer than their similarly sit-
uated counterparts. Qualitative focus group interviews with prosecuting and
defense attorneys identify four key mechanisms by which Immigration Cus-
toms and Enforcement detainers alter the incentive structure, impact deci-
sionmaking, and extend jail stays for non-citizens. Together, these findings
suggest that immigration law and the threat of deportation now cast a long
shadow over local as well as federal criminal proceedings, and enhance penal
pain for non-citizens. Implications of these findings for the “crimmigration”
literature and research on the effect of citizenship status on criminal justice
outcomes are discussed.
Over the past decade, immigration policy has prioritized the
removal of “criminal aliens,” that is, non-citizens who have been
convicted of a crime.
Toward this end, federal immigration
authorities have adopted a number of new programs that mobilize
state and local criminal justice resources. For example, the Crimi-
nal Alien Program (CAP) and Secure Communities enable immi-
gration authorities to identify non-citizens in local jails so that they
Special thanks to Mike West, Program Manager in the King County Department of
Adult and Juvenile Detention, for providing the administrative jail data and answering our
questions about their construction. Thanks also to Lucie Bernheim and Eileen Farley for
their assistance in compiling criminal history information, and to Matt Baretto at the Uni-
versity of Washington for providing the Hispanic Surname Analysis database. Thanks also
to members of the Law, Societies & Justice workgroup (especially George Lovell, Rachel
Cichowski, Carolyn Pinedo-Turnovsky, Angelina Godoy and Steve Herbert) for useful feed-
back and suggestions. Thanks also to several anonymous reviewers for their useful
Please direct all correspondence to Katherine Beckett, Department of Sociology, Box
353340, University of Washington, Seattle, WA98195. E-mail:
See (accessed 3 December 2014)
Law & Society Review, Volume 49, Number 1 (2015)
C2015 Law and Society Association. All rights reserved.
may be transferred to federal immigration custody on their
release from jail. These programs were implemented in the con-
text of heightened immigration enforcement, and coexist with
policies that dramatically expand the number of criminal offenses
that disqualify people seeking to obtain or retain legal permanent
status (Chac
on 2012; Kanstroom 2007; Menj
ıvar 2012)—as well as
policies and practices that have led the United States to host the
world’s largest prison population (Western 2006). Together, these
developments have expanded immigration enforcement’s scope,
and tethered federal immigration enforcement and local criminal
justice systems in novel ways.
This study analyzes how these developments affect local
criminal justice processes and outcomes. The empirical findings
fill an important lacuna: as Eagly notes, “the existing scholarship
has not adequately e xplored how immig ration operates in t he
criminal sphere—namely, how the rights, procedures and sys-
tems traditionally associated with the criminal justice system have
themselves been affected by interaction with the civil system of
immigration” (2010: 1284). Although a large and growing litera-
ture explores the consequences of “crimmigration”—especially
the intermingling of the federal criminal and civil immigration
systems—little is known about how the institutional enmeshment
of federal immigration enforcement and state/local justice institu-
tions affects practices and outcomes in the latter (but see Eagly
Although prior research on the impact of current immigration
enforcement practices on local justice outcomes is scant, the
emerging literature on legal hybridity provides reason to suspect
that programs that tether federal immigration enforcement to
local justice institutions will enhance the state’s power to punish
and exclude. For example, in recent years, bureaucratic and legal
actors at the local level created a variety of legally hybrid control
tools after the courts invalidated the vagrancy and loitering laws
that had historically enabled local authorities to regulate the
movement of the socially marginal (Beckett and Herbert 2010a,
2010b; Beckett and Murakawa 2012). Examples include of new,
legally hybrid control tools include gang injunctions, no contact
orders, and various applications of trespass law that enable offi-
cials to regulate the movement of individuals perceived as disor-
derly from urban spaces for extended periods of time. These
legally hybrid techniques blend elements of civil and criminal law;
they also shift the burden of proof and restrict rights in ways that
enhance the power of the state to control and banish the socially
marginal. Similarly, legislation that authorized the transfer of
some juveniles to the adult criminal system notably enhanced the
power of prosecutors in juvenile courts (Harris 2007).
242 Criminal Justice Processes in the Shadow of Deportation
In these cases, then, the fusion of civil and criminal law
worked to enhance state power. Studies suggest that a similar pro-
cess has occurred in the federal immigration context, where
authorities have incorporated many of the enhanced enforcement
powers—but not the rights protections—associated with criminal
law into the civil immigration system (Chac
on 2012; Eagly 2010).
As Legomsky explains, “immigration law has been absorbing the
theories, methods, perceptions, and priorities associated with crimi-
nal enforcement while explicitly rejecting the procedural ingre-
dients of criminal adjudication” (2007: 472). For example, in the
federal system, non-citizen defendants are often held for extended
periods of time on civil charges, only to be criminally charged
weeks after their arrest; by holding these defendants on civil
charges, authorities circumnavigate the right to criminal bond
(Eagly 2010: 1306). Conversely, a majority of federal immigration
criminal defendants are arrested by (civil) DHS enforcement offi-
cers, who typically interview arrestees without providing Miranda
warnings before transferring arrestees to federal criminal author-
ities. In this context, then, the blurring of civil and criminal proc-
esses effectively denies federal non-citizen defendants the rights
that are at least theoretically protected in the criminal system
(Eagly 2010: 1309).
In short, recent studies of the development and application of
legally hybrid control mechanisms provide reason to suspect that
the tethering of federal immigration enforcement practices to
local justice institutions is likely to enhance the state’s capacity to
detain and punish. Evidence that this is the case would have a
number of important implications. Before describing these, we
first provide some background regarding the programs that truss
the federal immigration enforcement apparatus to local justice
systems across the country.
Debating Secure Communities
Programs such as CAP and Secure Communities involve
Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) detainers: adminis-
trative requests from federal immigration authorities that jail
administrators hold non-citizens whose release from jail has been
ordered by a criminal court judge for up to 48 additional hours
(plus weekends and holidays) so that immigration authorities may
transfer non-citizen detainees to federal immigration custody.
Detainers, then, are both a proxy for non-citizen status and,
In the CAP program, ICE agents use jail registries and interviews with jail inmates to
identify non-citizens. Secure Communities uses biometric data to accomplish this task. As of
2012, Secure Communities had replaced CAP in all jurisdictions.
Beckett and Evans 243

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