Immigration law and long-term residents: A missing chapter in american criminal law

Abstract

In this Commentary, Professor Sandra Guerra Thompson urges her colleagues who teach and write on the subjects of criminal law and procedure to explore the growing intersection of immigration law and criminal law. Her Commentary addresses the plight of the millions of long-term residents of the United States who do not have citizenship, legal residency or a visa. She discusses the implications of changes in law enforcement policy regarding persons found within national borders - as opposed to those found in transit while crossing the border. Current policies signal a change in the role of state and local police officers and their relations with immigrant communities. The integration of federal immigration enforcement into local criminal law enforcement also dramatically affects a defense attorney's responsibilities in representing immigrants as even a minor crime can have dramatic collateral consequences. The use of state criminal justice processing systems to ferret out defendants without legal residency also alters the nature of a prosecutor's plea bargaining position in those cases, not to mention the sentencing authority of a trial judge. Finally, the use of criminal prosecution for federal crimes related to immigration violations - a blunt tool previously used judiciously for real criminals - is now increasingly used in cases involving individuals attempting to return to their families after deportation or who purchase phony documents for use in obtaining employment. The breakup of families due to the detention, deportation, and possible prosecution of family members also creates grave humanitarian issues. The many new legal and policy challenges our country will face as we move in the direction of greater immigration enforcement present a rich array of new topics for teaching and scholarship.

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