cover image Migrating to Prisons: America’s Obsession with Locking Up Immigrants

Migrating to Prisons: America’s Obsession with Locking Up Immigrants

César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández. New Press, $24.99 (208p) ISBN 978-1-62097-420-9

University of Denver law professor Hernández (Crimmigration Law) delivers an accessible history and fierce critique of the U.S. immigration system. For most of American history, Hernández notes, immigration law and criminal law were separate, and “citizenship played no role in whether people ended up behind bars.” In the late 19th century, laws to limit Chinese immigration led to the creation of detention centers where officials distinguished between “desirable” and “undesirable” migrants. In 1929, Congress criminalized unsanctioned border crossings, but “illegal entry” and “illegal reentry” (after deportation) weren’t widely prosecuted until President George W. Bush launched the “war on terror,” Hernández claims. Now they’re “the crimes that federal prosecutors pursue most often,” he writes, resulting in the detention of “upward of half a million people annually.” Hernández relates the stories of imprisoned immigrants, including a three-year-old boy who spent 650 days in an ICE facility, and acknowledges that some border communities depend on prisons for jobs and federal funding. But he believes that detaining migrants isn’t essential to enforcing the law, arguing that undocumented immigrants should remain free as their cases proceed through the courts. His thoughtful mixture of reportage and legal scholarship makes for an important entry in the immigration debate. (Dec.)