Annual Meeting Roundup: “Crimmigration: Exploring the Nexus of Carceral and Immigration Studies” Session Preview

This roundtable discussion takes place on Thursday, April 12, from 12:45 pm to 2:15 pm and is solicited by the Labor and Working-Class History Association (LAWCHA).

Twitter: #AM2677

Chair: Adam Goodman, University of Illinois at Chicago

• Kelly Lytle Hernandez, UCLA
• Tanya Golash-Boza, University of California, Merced
• Elizabeth Hinton, Harvard University

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This session explores the connections between criminality and mass incarceration, on the one hand, and migration, immigration, and mass detentions and deportations, on the other. Each of the historical sub-fields offer insights into key areas of present-day public policy debates, but they are often considered in isolation from one another, even as legal scholars are beginning to combine them under the heading of “Crimmigration.”

Popular conceptions of the African American freedom struggle tend to prioritize its heroic years, or the “classical phase” between Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 and the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. Yet scholars have recently pushed the struggle’s temporal, geographical, and thematic bounds to reveal a national, “long civil rights movement” with an expansive vision for social justice. Attention to “local people” both within and beyond the South has revealed that activists always sought not simply access and integration but real political power and economic opportunities—in short, the ending of structural racism, white privilege, and nonwhite disadvantage.

But that movement, and its Latino/a counterparts, hit a wall in the mid-1960s when white America simply refused to concede significant changes beyond formal, legal equality. Instead, whites hoarded both power and resources, fleeing to the suburbs, organizing new school districts and municipalities, developing a new color-blind language of alleged meritocracy, and redrawing the political map of the nation and its major metropolitan areas—in all regions. Black Power, Chicano/a Power, and other seemingly radical movements battled this backlash and sought to extend the gains of the “classical phase,” but they encountered steadfast resistance at every turn.

Indeed, as the scholars on this panel and others have shown, a primary strategy that white politicians employed to blunt discussions of durable racial inequality in the late 1960s and beyond was the development of “law and order” rhetoric and the accompanying War on Crime. Both political parties agreed that the urban rebellions reflected the inherent criminality and cultural (if not biological) deficiencies of nonwhites, and they recast the uprisings as criminal rather than political acts. It represented red meat for the white voting public, who suffered from rising deindustrialization but refused to acknowledge the historic white privileges they enjoyed, and even white liberals turned against the color-consciousness of the embattled liberation struggles. The result were the creation a new carceral state, a shift from social to punitive government programs, and ultimately, the incarceration of more bodies, disproportionately black and brown, than any society in history.

Simultaneously, the Hart-Celler Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 quietly produced a demographic revolution that is only now being scrutinized by scholars. A half-century earlier, as Mae Ngai and others have shown, the United States created the Border Patrol and the category of “illegal alien.” The conquest of the American Southwest, the Mexican Revolution, the Border Industrialization Project of 1964, the war in Vietnam, U.S. participation in the contras and other similar foreign policy interventions, and the implementation of NAFTA in 1994 all encouraged an unprecedented great migration of Latin Americans, Africans, and Asians to the United States. Some of the migrants lacked entry authorization and others overstayed visas, while employers relentlessly sought, hired, and exploited undocumented workers. Chain migration then browned the nation, resulting today in proportions of foreign-born residents on par with those of the second industrial revolution.

Many native-born whites—squeezed by deindustrialization, wage stagnation, the decline of organized labor, and the resurgence of laissez-faire capitalism—have responded by branding immigrants as threats to the nation’s economic, cultural, and political life. They have called for increased and more punitive enforcement of the nation’s immigration policy and re-written state and local laws to encourage “self-deportation.” As a consequence, in short, the policing, detention, incarceration, and deportation apparatuses of local, state, and federal governments have ballooned alongside the rise of the War on Crime and mass incarceration—which itself catches many non-immigrant Latinos and other nonwhites in its snares.

This panel puts these two interwoven stories into more intimate conversation, promising to push beyond the black/white binary common in carceral studies and the Anglo/Mexican or white/Latinx binaries of much of immigration studies. The speakers will ask: What does it look like if we study mass deportations, the flows of and war on drugs, and the rise of mass incarceration simultaneously, and in conversation with one another? Ideally, the panelists will explore these links in broad terms, tying in racial formations, labor systems, resistance, conquest, poverty, and public policy. Fortunately, some of the leading historians of these subjects agreed to participate, along with a leading sociologist. My hope is that those in the audience will be challenged to develop new ways of investigating and teaching the last fifty years of the American past by centering and connecting these two critical subjects.

Dr. Max Krochmal is associate professor of History and founding Director of Comparative Race and Ethnic Studies at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. He is the author of Blue Texas: The Making of a Multiracial Democratic Coalition in the Civil Rights Era (University of North Carolina Press, 2016), which won the Frederick Jackson Turner Award, and is the director of the Civil Rights in Black and Brown Oral History Project.

Posted: March 16, 2018
Tagged: Conference, Previews, Teaching