By Jasmin Lilian Diab
The last decade has witnessed a great deal of insight and contribution by scholars and practitioners into the push factors, quality, and contextualization of the forced migration experience. Discourse in areas of forced migration has developed exponentially, and even more so as intersectional layers add to the burden of the forced migration crises around the world. Perhaps one of the most ongoing debates along these lines is the relationship between forced migration and crime – often developing into debates surrounding national security concerns and anti-immigrant rhetoric. Moreover, although findings on the intersection between forced migration and crime have discredited much of the negativity surrounding migrant communities, popular perceptions, anti-immigrant policies, and stereotypes continue to taint this area of study and the policies it yields. As administrations and governments around the world insist on circulating anti-immigrant sentiments, close off their borders, and promote the falsehood that immigrants are more likely to engage in crime than “citizens,” public perception has generally been divisive over the extent to which this is true.
Research into the political economy of the migration-crime intersection is needed today more than ever as current understandings of this intersection develop rapidly with respect to ongoing political, economic, social and cultural realities. One of the most important and at times, neglected of these realities is Gender. The Oxford Handbook of Gender, Sex, and Crime insists that gender impacts the intersection between migration and crime drastically. Not only can it influence public perceptions of immigrant criminality but it is also a determining factor in governmental policy on immigration. Furthermore, The Handbook outlines that Gender affects both domestic violence crime rates and official awareness of those rates and can encourage social solidarity and political involvement – both of which may reduce criminal behaviors.
On Migration and Crime
The majority of anti-immigrant sentiments worldwide are deeply rooted in the notion that immigrants commit crimes at a higher rate than citizens or nationals. Supporters of anti-immigrant administrations and candidates continue to believe that forced migration and crime are an inevitable connection. In his study of the 2018 U.S. General Social Survey on the Attitude of Citizens’ toward immigrants and immigration, Daniel K. Pryce tested the effects of patriotism, nationalism, xenophobia, and global citizenship on pro– and anti-immigration attitudes. Drivers of anti-immigrant attitudes include the belief that immigrants increase the crime rates, immigrants undermine American culture, and that immigrants take jobs away from citizens. The study additionally found that female respondents with higher education were more likely to hold pro‐immigrant sentiments, and found that more than 38% of the sample expressed some form of anti-immigrant sentiments (xenophobia, American superiority, immigrants taking away jobs, etc.).
Contrary to these sentiments and their existence across the “developed” world, studies from the United States, Canada, and European nations conclude that immigrants have lower violent and nonviolent crime, arrest, and incarceration rates than their citizen or native-born counterparts. A study conducted by Michael T. Light, Jingying He, and Jason P. Robey that compared crime rates between immigrants and native-born US citizens in Texas compared violent, property, drug, and traffic arrest rates between both categories. In comparison to native-born citizens and legal immigrants, undocumented immigrants showed the lowest felony arrest rates across all four categories of crime. For violent, property, and drug offenses, legal immigrants occupy a middle position between undocumented immigrants and US-born citizens. The discrepancies between native-born citizens and undocumented immigrants are considerable. According to the study, US-born citizens are over two times more likely to be arrested for violent crimes, 2.5 times more likely to be arrested for drug crimes, and over four times more likely to be arrested for property crimes.
Although the overwhelming evidence points to the fact that immigration is not directly linked to higher crime rates, and that immigrants are less likely to be criminals than the citizens or native-born individuals, governments and administrations continue to manipulate public sentiments, fears, stereotypes, and prejudices about what some perceive immigrants to be. Moreover, global immigration and asylum policies have been developed based on these preconceived notions rather than realities on the ground.
On Migration, Gender, and Crime
Criminology has largely suggested that masculinity and constructed gender roles are capable of both shaping a community’s social dynamics and encouraging criminal and social behaviors. Criminological discourse further highlights that law enforcement typically responds to community members based on gendered and racialized misconceptions and preconceived notions. Though scholars across the United States, #BlackLivesMatter advocates and activists, and human rights defenders have argued repeatedly that negative media depictions of the violent masculinity of young black men encourage hostile policing activity in low-income and minority communities, the intersection between gender, immigration, and criminality remains understudied. Gender constructions, stereotypes and pre-dispositioned roles are relevant to both social dynamics as well as the relationship between immigration and crime in a number of contexts. Subsequently, research on gendered behavior may ultimately produce new understandings into the layered relationship between immigration and crime.
In her commentary “Gendering Crimmigration: The Intersection of Gender, Immigration, and the Criminal Justice System,” Allison S. Hartry insists that although discussions of race and nativism have played a large part in analysis between immigration and crime, the same cannot be said for the connection between crimmigration and gender. Understanding the connection between gender and crimmigration will assist in the comprehension realities such as community perceptions of immigrant criminality, the implementation of restrictive immigration policies and practices, intimate-partner and gender-based violence in immigrant communities, and the victimization of immigrant employees. Elaborating on the literature in these areas will not only assist in shedding light on crimmigration realities, but will also assist in grasping the impact of these policies on gendered realities.
The management of global migration flows is now tainted with a need to control – more specifically, a need to preserve false notions of “national security.” With this logic, notions such as race and gender not only shape public perceptions of immigration, but also shape stringent policies on cross border movements and immigrant flows. Crimmigration has propagated a very gendered and racialized legal system and framework. Additionally, racism has been associated with mobility restrictions as immigration policies continue to discriminate against non-white immigrants actively.
On Migration, Race, Gender, and Crime
The study of the intersections between immigration and crime has largely disregarded gender as a unit of analysis and has additionally failed to create connections with ethnicity, race, and class. A clear example of this is that migratory experiences are considerably different for women of color at every stage of their immigration process. Their experiences merit exploration and inquiry into the many layers at play in these experiences.
Women continue to be most affected by direct violence throughout forced migration experiences, which is aggravated by the militarization of the physical border. Women encounter situations where sex is demanded of them to facilitate their crossing and multiple studies have found that that border rapes are not random or isolated incidents. In his article, “‘You Have to Pay With Your Body’: The Hidden Nightmare of Sexual Violence on the Border,” Manny Fernandez documents incident after incident of sexual assault at the US-Mexico border, insisting that migrant women and girls of color are the victims of sexual assaults that most often go unreported, uninvestigated and unprosecuted.
As it stands today, the policing of migration sanctions an evident gendered and racialized hierarchy the developed world abuses. This unfortunate reality and blatant violation of human rights render women of color uniquely affected by crimmigration as they continue to endure violence and assault throughout their journeys, preconceived notions about their sexuality, gender-based violence (GBV), and abusive relationships throughout their immigration processes. The international community and international migration frameworks must move away from punishing people for fleeing persecution while allowing discrimination, dominance, and coercion to govern their search for safety. A deeper interrogation into perceptions of criminality, gender, race and immigration will assist in shifting attitudes and engaging people in the discussion on who is allowed to go where – and more importantly, how?
Jasmin is a Canadian-Lebanese researcher, writer, editor, reviewer, instructor and consultant in the areas of Forced Migration, Gender and Conflict Studies. She is the Refugee Health Program Coordinator at the American University of Beirut’s Global Health Institute, as well as a Research Associate on the Political Economy of Health in Conflict under its Conflict Medicine Program. Jasmin is a Research Affiliate at the Centre for Refugee Studies at York University, an Adjunct Professor of Gender and Migration at the Fatima Al-Fihri Open University, and a Pre-doctoral Fellow and Program Lead at the ‘War, Conflict and Global Migration’ Think Tank of the Global Research Network. In other roles, she serves as the MENA Regional Focal Point on Migration of the United Nations General Assembly-mandated UN Major Group for Children and Youth and as a Senior Consultant on Refugee and Gender Studies at Cambridge Consulting Services.