Two Decades of Constructing Immigrants as Criminals

Authored by: Cecilia Menjívar , Andrea Gómez Cervantes , Daniel Alvord

Routledge Handbook on Immigration and Crime

Print publication date:  February  2018
Online publication date:  February  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138668416
eBook ISBN: 9781317211563
Adobe ISBN:


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This chapter focuses on the intertwined nature of two components of the construction of immigrants as criminals today: Laws enacted, especially, since the mid-1990s and media portrayals that solidify in the public’s eye images of immigrants as criminals. At various points in the nation’s history certain immigrant groups have been constructed as dangerous or as threats, and sometimes these groups have been redefined as acceptable and deserving of inclusion. However, today immigrants face a qualitatively and quantitatively different legal regime from that which immigrants in the past faced, a regime that has transformed activities and practices common among immigrants in the past into criminal, often felonious, acts. As well, the media today, relying on sophisticated and fast technology, plays a critical role in sustaining images of immigrants as criminals that new laws have created. We argue that these laws and media act in conjunction to construct images of immigrants as criminals, which the public consumes and politicians utilize to justify further punitive legislation.

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