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Overcriminalizing Immigration

Jennifer M. Chacón

University of California, Irvine School of Law


Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, Vol. 102, No. 3, 2012
UC Irvine School of Law Research Paper No. 2013-91

This Article argues that contemporary immigration policy is a site of overcriminalization. Part I discusses the apparent decline of federal exclusivity in immigration regulation and the rise of state and local legislation — particularly state criminal laws — aimed at controlling migration. Part II discusses the significant expansion of federal immigration enforcement efforts and, in particular, the recent dramatic rise in the use of federal criminal sanctions as a means of enforcing immigration laws. Part III discusses the rise of state and local participation in the enforcement of federal immigration laws and the consequent increase in the policing of low-level state criminal offenses in certain communities. The final section of the paper explains why the resulting policies constitute overcriminalization. Overcriminalization occurs when a legislature defines too many different activities as “crime,” when the system excessively punishes offenses, or both. In a system characterized by overcriminalization, law enforcement operates with an undesirable degree of unchecked discretion, procedural protections are undercut, and scarce resources are misallocated in crime control efforts. All of the major problems associated with overcriminalization appear in contemporary immigration enforcement. The article therefore urges a move away from the criminalization of labor migration.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 41

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Date posted: February 3, 2013  

Suggested Citation

Chacón, Jennifer M., Overcriminalizing Immigration (2012). Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, Vol. 102, No. 3, 2012; UC Irvine School of Law Research Paper No. 2013-91. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2210589

Contact Information

Jennifer M. Chacón (Contact Author)
University of California, Irvine School of Law ( email )
535A Administration
Irvine, CA 92697-1000
United States
530-754-5700 (Phone)
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