The Case for Crimmigration Reform

69 Pages Posted: 21 Jun 2013 Last revised: 18 Sep 2015

See all articles by Mary D. Fan

Mary D. Fan

University of Washington School of Law

Date Written: March 7, 2014


The nation is mired in immigration reform debates again. Leaders vow that this time will be different. The two groups most targeted by immigration control law over the last century, Hispanics and Asians, have increased in numbers and in political power. Conservative leaders are realizing that hostile policies toward people perceived as foreign are alienating rising demographic groups and that reform can be a peace offering. Yet, as in the past, the debate over immigration reform continues to be dominated by a focus on alleged “amnesty for lawbreakers” and a fierce divide that doomed reform proposals in 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2010. One side calls for legalizing an estimated eleven million undocumented people while the other side decries rewarding lawbreakers. Overlooked in the clash are problems in the nation's swollen “crimmigration complex” that endanger values important to each side.

This Article is about curbing the most problematic excesses of the “crimmigration complex.” The Article uses the term crimmigration complex in two senses, to evoke both the prison-industrial complex and the complex that distorts behavior in psychoanalytic theory. First, crimmigration complex refers to the expanding array of government agencies and private contractors using the expensive artillery of criminal sanctions to enforce civil immigration law. Second, crimmigration complex refers to the competing passions, fears, and history that distort law and policy choices and fuel immigration criminalization, blocking the ability to pursue more cost-effective approaches. Breaking free of crimmigration complex domination requires bridging the fiercely competing worldviews that have repeatedly stymied immigration reform. This Article argues that continuing to feed the ravenous crimmigration complex endangers values important to both sides of divide. The Article explores how the impasse-bridging interests of power, demography, and fiscal responsibility counsel for crimmigration reform.

Keywords: Immigration Reform, Crimmigration, Immigration Criminalization, Border Security, Economic Opportunity, Immigration Modernization Act, Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act, SAFE Act, Hispanics, Asians, Demographic Change, Conservatives, Liberals, Republicans, Democrats, Legalization, Amnesty

Suggested Citation

Fan, Mary, The Case for Crimmigration Reform (March 7, 2014). North Carolina Law Review, Vol. 92, No. 1, 2013, Forthcoming, University of Washington School of Law Research Paper No. 2013-5, Available at SSRN:

Mary Fan (Contact Author)

University of Washington School of Law ( email )

William H. Gates Hall
Box 353020
Seattle, WA 98195
United States


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