Crimmigration: The Stigma Behind the Criminality of Immigrants

By: Kathleen Andrade


Immigration rates have been growing exponentially in the United States. Under the current Trump administration, significant immigration regulations have been imposed. Some of these regulations include: implementing the travel ban (which banned nationals of eight countries, most majority-Muslim, from entering the United States), cancelling the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program (which provides work authorization and temporary relief from deportation to approximately 690,000 unauthorized immigrants brought to the United States as children), and ending the designation of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for nationals of Haiti, Nicaragua and Sudan.[1] These types of regulations have exacerbated the stigma behind immigration.


Somewhere along the way, the term “immigrant” has adopted a negative connotation, and certain stereotypes have become associated with this group of people. Some of these include judgments of character and assumptions of actions. A common assumption is that all immigrants come to the United States illegally and are therefore criminals or that they are more likely to commit crimes when compared to native-born citizens. Therefore, there is a dual relationship between criminality and immigration of both documented and undocumented individuals in the United States and, with respect to that relationship, a more pronounced stigma exists. As it is such a broad classification of people, there are many tiers to immigration. Some examples are naturalized immigrants, undocumented immigrants who cross the border, immigrants who enter the country on a temporary visa, and immigrants who overstay that visa and later become undocumented. The United States takes pride in being a country founded on the idea that people deserve the chance to create a better future, which is why many people from developing countries or countries under political turmoil flee to the United States with the hope to encounter some form of stability.


What appears to be a result of these assumptions are harsh penalties and preventative measures implemented that promote a negative message of exclusion and resentment towards immigrants as a whole. For example, throughout his campaign, President Trump focused the nation’s attention on building a wall at the border as a preventative measure to stop immigrants from entering the United States from Mexico.[2] However, statistics show that from 2010 to 2017, the population of undocumented immigrants from Mexico fell by a remarkable 1.3 million.[3] The primary form of entry into the United States of undocumented immigrants was from overstaying their temporary visas, not from crossing the border illegally.[4]


Multiple studies have been designed to answer a lingering question: are immigrants more likely to commit crimes than native inhabitants? What might be shocking to some people, given the stereotypes that tend to be attached to the “immigrant” title, is that immigrants are less likely to commit serious crimes when compared to native-born citizens.[5] This holds true for both documented and undocumented immigrants. There is no satisfactory evidence to show that immigration has resulted in an increase in crime. “The problem of crime in the United States is not ‘caused’ or even aggravated by immigrants, regardless of their legal status. But the misperception that the opposite is true persists among policymakers, the media, and the general public, thereby undermining the development of reasoned public responses to both crime and immigration.”[6] It is difficult to make the determination that criminality and immigration have a direct correlation when the evidence to support that claim is not present; the accusations that are typically made regarding the crime rate by immigrants have no evidentiary support.


The impact of having a negative societal viewpoint on immigration is crucial because societal norms and behaviors can influence decisions and outlooks on issues. If society views immigrants in a negative light, it naturally follows that the legal system will also adopt those viewpoints in its laws and opinions. An example of this is 8 U.S.C. § 1324(a)(1)(A)(iv). In 2018, the Ninth Circuit, in United States of America v. Sineneng-Smith, held that 8 U.S.C. § 1324(a)(1)(A)(iv) was unconstitutional and that the overly broad plain language of the statute demonstrates how negatively immigrants are viewed. Subsection Four of the statute states, “[A person who] encourages or induces an alien to come to, enter, or reside in the United States, knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that such coming to, entry, or residence is or will be in violation of law.”[7] In itself, Subsection Four would criminalize certain communications with non-citizen family members, communications related to advocacy for immigrants, or even communications between employers and employees.[8] These effects reach further than just immigrants, but also to the people around them, simply because immigrants are looked down upon.


Immigration is an issue that is becoming more relevant as the years progress. Due to its importance, one should be aware of the negative effects of the stigma behind immigration. Not only is it important to generally overcome ignorance and to better understand the realities of these situations, but it is also important to be aware that societal beliefs, while they might seem inconsequential, are significant and have the capability of spiraling into something greater.


The butterfly effect is a theory where one small action can result in a big difference later on. It is known for its famous analogy that a minor perturbation, such as the flap of a butterfly wing, can cause something as destructive and chaotic as a tornado somewhere else in the world. What might seem insignificant in the moment, such as a overgeneralized assumption or comment about immigrants entering the United States, can lead to legislation being passed or court opinions being decided that will have a lasting and disturbing impact on the lives of families. It is important to become aware of the realities of immigration policies in the United States in order to end the stigma.



[1] Sarah Pierce and Andrew Selee, Immigration under Trump: A Review of Policy Shifts in the Year Since the Election, Migration Policy Institute (December 2017),

[2] Robert Warren, US Undocumented Population Continued to Fall from 2016 to 2017, and Visa Overstays Significantly Exceeded Illegal Crossings for the Seventh Consecutive Year, Center for Migration Studies (Jan. 16, 2019),

[3] Warren, supra note 2.

[4] Warren, supra note 2

[5] Walter Ewing et al., The Criminalization of Immigration in the United States, Immigration Policy Center Special Report, Washington: American Immigration Council (Jul. 13, 2015),


[6] Rubén G. Rumbaut & Walter A. Ewing, The Myth of Immigrant Criminality and the Paradox of Assimilation: Incarceration Rates Among Native and Foreign-Born Men, Immigration Policy Center Special Report,” Washington DC: American Immigration Law Foundation (Spring 2007),


[7] 8 U.S.C. § 1324(a)(1)(A)(iv) (2012).

[8] 8 U.S.C. § 1324(a)(1)(A)(iv) (2012); see, e.g., United States v. Henderson, 857 F. Supp. 2d 191, 197 (D. Mass. 2012) (exemplifying an instance when an employer was charged and convicted based on communications with an employee); see also United States of Am. v. Sineneng-Smith, 910 F.3d 461 (9th Cir. 2018) (in which the Ninth Circuit found persuasive was a grandmother who asks her grandson to overstay his visa).

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