Policing Sex, Policing Immigrants: What Crimmigration’s Past Can Tell Us About Its Present and Its Future

Policing Sex, Policing Immigrants: What Crimmigration’s Past Can Tell Us About Its Present and Its Future

The flow of information from local police to federal immigration officials forms a central element of the contemporary phenomenon known as “crimmigration”—the convergence of immigration enforcement and criminal law enforcement. This Essay provides the first historical account of the early roots of this information flow and a new perspective on its contemporary significance.

Previous scholarship locates crimmigration’s origins in the 1980s and ’90s. Drawing on extensive archival research on day-to-day interactions between local police and federal immigration officials, this Essay explores a lost chapter in the development of crimmigration: the pipeline that brought men arrested by vice squads in gay cruising areas into the deportation system in the 1950s and ’60s. This history demonstrates that the contemporary crimmigration system is best understood not as the merging of two enforcement systems that were formerly separate, but rather as the product of shifts within both policing and the deportation systems that have rendered many more people vulnerable to the intersection of the two. Drawing parallels between the use of vice squad arrest records by the Immigration and Naturalization Service in the 1950s and the use of police data by the Department of Homeland Security today, this Essay argues that a symbiotic relationship has developed in recent years between “broken windows” policing and the deportation system. The deportation system has come to depend on the existence of an expansive criminal justice system that subjects low-income communities of color to regular monitoring through frequent stops and arrests for minor offenses. At the same time, programs that promote police-immigration cooperation have themselves become drivers of over-policing.

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