Law professor publishes paper on 'crimmigration'
Yolanda Vazquez explores combination of criminal and immigration law
October 21, 2011, 12:42 am·
One of the main reasons for the deportation of immigrants — both documented and undocumented — is traffic violations.
Law professor Yolanda Vazquez recently published a paper which found that the combination of criminal and immigration law, which Vazquez calls “crimmigration,” has increasingly been used to exclude, discriminate and deport immigrants, specifically Latinos. The paper was an analysis of prior research papers and statistics that the Department of Homeland Security compiled.
Vazquez, who is half-Mexican and half-Puerto Rican, is the grandchild of Mexican immigrants. After “two of the harshest immigration acts ever in history” were passed in 1996 — the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, which states that immigrants who have overstayed their visa by one year or more are barred from re-entering the country for 10 years — Vazquez became interested in immigration reform.
During the last 30 years, there has been a “surge of anti-immigrant sentiment,” Vazquez said, which is reflected in recent law.
Vazquez describes one case in her paper in which 58 percent of all people a police officer pulled over or stopped in Alabama were Latinos, while the ethnicity only represents 3.9 percent of the state’s population. Current Arizona immigration law allows law enforcement to consider race as a factor in whether to stop an individual.
“If someone looks ‘Mexican,’ that can be one factor in determining if that person can be stopped,” Vazquez said.
While many refer to unauthorized immigrants as “undocumented” or “illegal,” those terms are not defined in United States immigration law. Terms such as “alien” or “illegal” can often demean or further marginalize immigrants, Vazquez explained.
“I do think that rhetoric and words are very powerful,” Vazquez said. “When someone describes someone as illegal, I think it has a lot more force than someone who defines someone as a non-citizen … Queen Elizabeth would be described as a non-citizen, yet no one would call her an alien.”
The anti-immigrant sentiment also has economic roots; many proponents of stricter immigration laws cite that immigrants take American jobs, don’t pay taxes and live off welfare. However, according to Vazquez, these beliefs are unfounded. Documented immigrants cannot apply for welfare until 10 years after they have immigrated and undocumented immigrants cannot apply at all.
In addition to the prejudices undocumented immigrants face, they also have higher barriers in getting an education.
“Unauthorized immigrants cannot hold legal employment and are ineligible for all federal and most state aid, which includes financial aid for tuition. Pennsylvania does not allow the children of unauthorized immigrants to establish residency for tuition purposes,” Michael Olivas, University of Houston College of Law professor, wrote in an email. Olivas is the author of the upcoming book, No Undocumented Child Left Behind, which will be published in December.
Despite these challenges, Penn and other private universities often have the resources to support these students in the form of private aid money through donations.
“We will continue with our policy of non-discrimination and ensuring that we make Penn accessible to the most talented and hard-working students,” Penn President Amy Gutmann said, adding that the University complies with all legal requirements when making those donations.
Even if undocumented students are able to find a way to finance their education, they are often faced with more problems upon graduation. As Olivas explained, they are ineligible to hold legal employment.
“I think it will get worse before it gets better,” Vazquez said. “The assumption that Latinos or [unauthorized] immigrants are a drain on society, are criminals, are a danger to national security.”