The "Crimmigration" Effect?: An Exploratory Analysis of 287(g) and Latino Juveniles in Residential Placement

Kimberly B. Mehlman-Orozco

Advisor: Catherine Gallagher, PhD, Department of Criminology, Law and Society

Committee Members: Cynthia Lum, James Willis, Adam Dobrin

Nguyen Engineering Building, #1851
July 16, 2012, 10:00 AM to 07:00 AM


This dissertation explores whether section 287(g) of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (herein, "287(g)"), which allows for state officers and employees to serve as deputized immigration officers, has an indirect effect on the percentage of Latino juveniles in residential placement in the juvenile justice system. Prior research and criminological theories posit that we would not expect Latino foreign nationals and Latino citizens, prima facia, to engage in a disproportionate amount of criminal activity (Katz, Fox, and White, 2011; Lee and Martinez, 2009; Lee, Martinez, and Rosenfeld, 2001; Marcelli, 2001; Martinez, Stowell, and Lee, 2010; Nielsen, Lee, and Martinez, 2005; and Stowell, Messner, McGeever, and Raffalovich, 2009). However, in the U.S. Latinos are disproportionately involved in the criminal justice system (Lopez and Light, 2009; Vazsonyi and Chen, 2010). Previous research suggests different explanations for this phenomenon. One proposition - and the focus of this study - is that disproportionate involvement is due to a “crimmigration” effect of policies like 287(g).

"Crimmigration" suggests that the enforcement of policies like 287(g), which focus criminal justice resources on illegal immigration issues could lead to disproportionate Latino involvement in the criminal justice system because it permits high levels of law enforcement discretion with regard to focusing on non-native racial minorities. In explaining this potential effect, I explore the applicability of LatCrit theory, Marxist theory, conflict theory, and bounded rationality theory. Ultimately, each of these theories provides a framework that can be used to suggest that 287(g) directives may be currently implemented in a way that disproportionately affects Latinos with an increased number of searches, citations, arrests, and time in detention.

To examine this relationship between 287(g) and disproportionate Latino contact with the criminal justice system, this study specifically focuses on juvenile justice. I use the Census of Juveniles on Residential Placement, the American Community Survey, and the U.S. Census to examine the percent of juveniles in residential placement in 287(g) jurisdictions as compared to non-287(g) jurisdictions, while holding constant the population density of Latinos and other social and crime-related controls over time. By doing so, I explore the relationship between those places with and without 287(g) and the levels of Latinos in juvenile residential placement. Perhaps significant differences between these types of jurisdictions could shed light on how policies like 287(g) impact the racial composition of those involved in the criminal justice system.

Despite a growing body of research suggesting that 287(g) jurisdictions may be experiencing increases in Latino involvement in the justice system, the findings of this exploratory study did not support this claim. Specifically, 287(g) jurisdictions may experience no effect or a negative effect on the percent of Latino juveniles in residential placement. These findings should be taken cautiously, however, given the extremely limited nature of the data available to study this issue. Such limitations yield important insights about the type of information that criminal justice systems need to collect in order to adequately examine whether a relationship exists between immigration policy enforcement and criminal justice involvement. Such information is absolutely necessary to better inform this highly contentious policy area, with little research base for claims on both sides of the debate.