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Crimmigration at DU

By César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández

In 2006, Juliet Stumpf noted a trend that had largely gone unnoticed. Criminal law and immigration law, she wrote in her foundational article “The Crimmigration Crisis,” were quickly merging into a distinctive creation of law and policy. Less than a decade later, the concept of crimmigration has spread across disciplines and oceans. It is a hotly discussed area that shifts almost as rapidly as it can be conceptualized.

To help make sense of this burgeoning field, the Denver University Law Review convened “CrImmigration: Crossing the Border Between Criminal Law and Immigration Law” on February 6 and 7 at the Sturm College of Law. Stumpf, a professor at Lewis and Clark, joined an outstanding cast of internationally recognized academics, local advocates, and others who spent a day-and-a-half deliberating about crimmigration’s past, present, and future.

My colleague Christopher Lasch, for example, led a panel discussion on a simple tool that for years streamlined the route from a simple encounter with a local police officer into immigration detention and, quite often, deportation. That tool—known as an “immigration detainer” or an “immigration hold”—has largely been displaced courtesy of sustained legal challenges and political pressure applied by advocates. A number of federal courts concluded that immigration detainers violated the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment, thus any detention pursuant to a detainer was an illegal seizure that exposed the imprisoning entity to financial liability. Last year, the ACLU of Colorado’s Mark Silverstein reported, Colorado became the first state in the nation to be able to claim that every county sheriff in the state had decided not to enforce immigration detainers.

The Graduate School of Social Work’s Debora Ortega added to this discussion by sharing the “daily stress of normal life” that migrants directly impacted by immigration policing experience. People are made to hide in their own communities, sometimes literally, as in a story she recounted. Other times families are separated without a clue whether they will ever be reunited.

Staying together isn’t always ideal, however, as another of my colleagues, Lisa Graybill, explained in her discussion of the federal government’s detention of children and families while government officials determine whether they are legally entitled to remain in the United States. After closing its major family imprisonment site in 2009, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement unit of the Department of Homeland Security only operated a small-scale detention facility in rural Pennsylvania. All that changed in 2014 when an unusually large number of unaccompanied children and families began arriving in the United States. Federal officials, looking for a quick response to clamoring political pressure, threw together a detention center in remote Artesia, New Mexico and began sending women and children there. The government shut down the Artesia facility in December when it opened up a larger, permanent center in Dilley, Texas.

What does the future of crimmigration hold? This is necessarily an uncertain inquiry, but, as a number of the panelists explained, the past and present hold some keys to the future. American University’s Amanda Frost suggested that there is much to learn from the federal government’s immigration enforcement failures. Relying on political scientist Jacqueline Stevens’ research, she recounted as an example of pernicious problems the fact that every year roughly 4,000 United States citizens are caught up in the immigration detention and deportation pipeline. Attorneys, she said, can go a long way to ensure that mistakes become less frequent. Indeed, roughly 30 to 45 percent of migrants held at the Artesia detention facility were able to show that they had a credible fear of persecution, the first step on the asylum pathway, prior to attorneys arriving on the scene. With the assistance of lawyers, that number jumped to 100 percent.

Together, the panelists explored many of the most pressing quandaries developing as a result of the boundaries between criminal law and immigration law blurring. Anyone interested in catching the symposium’s discussions can watch a recording online at the Denver Law Review’s website.

César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández is a visiting professor in the School of Law. He publishes, a blog about the convergence of criminal and immigration law.

 Christopher Lash, Juliet Stumpf, and Mark Silverstein

From left to right: Christopher Lash, Juliet Stumpf, and Mark Silverstein

 Kit Johnson, Victor Romero (on screen), and Amanda Frost

From left to right: Kit Johnson, Victor Romero (on screen), and Amanda Fros