The Case for Crimmigration Reform

Publication Title

North Carolina Law Review


amnesty, crimmigration, legislation, minorities, undocumented persons

Document Type



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. [para] 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.