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NCJ Number: 208678 Find in a Library
Title: Contesting Criminality: Illegal Immigration and the Spatialization of Legality
Journal: Theoretical Criminology  Volume:9  Issue:1  Dated:February 2005  Pages:5-33
Author(s): Susan B. Coutin
Date Published: February 2005
Page Count: 29
Type: Research (Theoretical)
Format: Article
Language: English
Country: United States of America
Annotation: This article examines how undocumented immigrants' efforts to secure legal status provides an area of criminological investigation regarding how criminality status can be challenged.
Abstract: Attending to movements and links between the legal and the illegal highlights the social costs and theoretical inadequacy of policies and accounts that draw sharp distinctions between "the criminal" and "the law-abiding" as though they are in separate social and physical spaces. In examining this issue, the article begins with a theoretical discussion of the category of the criminal. The discussion notes that criminal justice mechanisms attempt to define law violators as persons who, for the sake of punishment, must be isolated and distinguished from society's mainstream of supposed law-abiding citizens. The article then examines how Salvadoran immigrants contested claims that they were illegal aliens. Lessons are then drawn for the broader relevance of this case for theorizing about criminality. The article notes that like prisoners, unauthorized immigrants have been denied access to increasing numbers of social rights and benefits. Detention centers for unauthorized immigrants operate as prisons to incapacitate and separate illegal immigrants from the rest of society. Salvadorans who immigrated to the United States without authorization have, with some success, contested charges that they were illegal aliens who deserved to be detained and deported. They claimed that the quality and contributions of their lives since being in the United States warranted a grant of legal permanent residency. Examining the tactics, alliances, and distinctions through which these claims were made shows how a group that was criminalized, socially excluded, and politically subordinate could nonetheless influence policy changes that redefined group members as "law-abiding" and deserving of legal status. This case study indicates that the process of marginalizing law-breakers from the law-abiding is a fluid and dynamic process, as rationales for various laws are challenged by competing rationales voiced by "criminals" and their supporters, who may gain popular support that leads to law reform. 23 notes and 88 references
Main Term(s): Criminology
Index Term(s): Criminalization; Decriminalization; Immigration offenses; Jurisprudence; Law reform
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