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    Racialize of War on Drugs and Anti-Immigration Laws

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    Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow thoroughly explains the different parallels and connections between the War on Drugs, Mass Incarceration and its roots in Jim Crow (Alexander, 2010). Her argument stands that the criminal justice system in the United States is an updated racialized system of social control, with her focus being in the lives of African Americans affected by the system. She extends her argument by stating that, the system of mass incarceration stemming from the War on Drugs is a renewed & improved Jim Crow. In a similar manner the following argument will contest that the Anti-Immigration System’s laws, statutes, & ordinances is a social control system that is racialized much like the War on Drugs aims for a racial control of African American communities, the immigration system, on the other hand, focuses on those of Latin American descent.

    The parallels between the two systems can be drawn from the beginning of their creation. It is safe to say that the creation of both systems was predominantly brought to life due to the majority’s or dominant race’s political fear of minorities in regard of possible depletion of political or economic advances for those classified as white citizens. The Jim Crow era began its creation as a response to the post-reconstruction amendments in which African Americans gained a minimum second-class form of citizenship. In other words, in response to the fear or political disagreement caused by the Reconstruction Amendments, Jim Crow laws allowed the legalized exclusion of African Americans as members of society.

    Even though the main goal of the Reconstruction Amendments was to entitle African Americans of their powers as citizens, Jim Crow laws enabled the exact opposite. Alexander (2010) then explains how these sentiments did not fade away despite the civil rights movements. Alexander (2010) in facts argues that the Jim Crow Era never went away and instead hides in sheep clothing as the War on Drugs & Mass Incarceration. As Alexander (2010) states in her book, several of the laws enacted as a result of the War on Drugs have been depicted as racial neutral on paper but not in practice. The boom of Anti-Immigration laws flourished in a very similar manner. There was an increase in Anti-Immigration Laws after the 2007 Great Recession, in which many experienced a loss of economic advances (Golash-Boza, 2016). It was then that Jim Crow styled laws began to surface as Anti-Immigration Laws.

    These laws served to spread the fear of the stereotype that illegal immigrants are coming into the United States with the purpose of taking advantage of limited resources without giving anything back to the community. The War on Drugs has affected the lives of African Americans by perpetuating black men as a criminal; on the other hand, Anti-Immigration Laws have perpetuated that anyone of Latin descent is a criminal or illegal despite the individual’s immigration status. Both systems racially target a group of individuals on account of race and feed into the notion that an individual’s race is a predictor of criminality. The following will discuss how both systems, The War on Drugs and Anti-Immigration Laws, targets are racially classified.

    Alexander (2010) points out that the way the criminal justice system has combatted the War on Drugs holds several racial disparities. Her focus is centered on ethnic incarceration rates not being equal and the officer’s use of discretion permitting the primary targets of stops and searches to be predominantly African American men. Anti-Immigration Laws have operated in a similar manner in practice. Even though the United States is home to a variety of different racially classified immigrants both women and men, the targets of these laws are Latino men. Tanya Golash-Boza conducted an intersectional analysis of demographics of individuals that have faced deportation as a consequence of Immigration Laws (Golash-Boza, 2016). Golash-Boza’s (2016) research was focused on both mass incarceration and mass deportation racial disparities.

    Golash-Boza’s (2016) research concluded that even though Anti-Immigration Laws are to be practiced equally & justly the predominant racial group facing deportations was found to be immigrants from Mexico. Furthermore, the top three groups of individuals to most likely face deportation were of Latino descent. A similar parallel can be noted in the disparities of mass incarceration since African Americans make up a grossly disproportionally population of those incarcerated in contrast to the general population. All in all, both mass deportation and mass incarceration have disproportional rates in regard to the ethnic origin of the group of individuals facing the highest incarceration or deportation rate. The following will shift our focus to how the utilization of officer’s discretion on whom and where to target, further enables the system to extend their racialized social control of individuals.

    It is not common knowledge that one can deny an officer’s request to search one’s vehicle or submit oneself to a search. As Alexander (2010) explains, it is because of this that police officers can conduct what would otherwise be considered unlawful stops and searches. Furthermore, police officers utilize their discretion to target individuals who are confined in low-economic communities with the reasoning being that they may be carrying drugs. When the two are combined, African Americans have been caught in the crossfire of mass drug sweeps officers conduct in hopes of finding someone with drugs. As a result of the discretion allowed in name of combating the War on Drugs, police officers utilize their discretion to target and profile individuals on account of race.

    If an officer holds implicit biases on a specific group of individuals, he or she will be more than likely to practice their discretion by targeting an individual in the said group. For example, police officers conducting drug sweeps at a bus transit may be more inclined to profile young black men to be criminals carrying drugs. Anti-Immigration Laws have enabled the same behavior by police officers on duty. For example, the SB4 is a Texas Anti-Immigration law that forces law enforcement to perform the duties of a federal immigration officer. The SB4 calls for allowing police officers to utilize their discretion in questioning an individual for his or her immigration status upon the encounter of a legal stop.

    One could argue that the law in question does not necessarily target in writing an individual of Latino descent; however, in practice, those being stopped and questioned about their immigration status is anyone that is profiled to be Latino. Much like the War on Drugs targets and criminalizes African Americans as individuals with the potential to be involved in drugs, SB4 criminalizes anyone that resembles the character of a Latino as potentially an illegal alien. In a hypothetical setting in which three men are out on the street a Latino, African American and a White individual, two out of these three men have the potential of being a criminal solely on the account of race.

    The Latino could secretly be an illegal immigrant, and the African American could be carrying drugs, nevertheless, there is no evidence that either of those two individuals is doing anything against the law. Alexander (2010) points out that the racial target practice of discretion may be a consequence of an officer’s implicit bias and she points to the media playing a key role in the formation of these biases (Alexander, 2010, p. 97-140). For, instance several Hollywood movies have painted Latinos in a negative light casting them as mob leaders, mafia, gangbangers with often the victims being white citizens. A recent example being the motion picture Peppermint, in which Jennifer Garner loses her husband and daughter to the violent acts of a Latino gang during a holiday vacation.

    These types of stereotypes influence the light in which society sees anyone of Latino descent, it paints them as vicious criminals that must be stopped. It should not then come to a surprise that various members of society can hold implicit biases after years of characterizations of Latinos as criminals; consequently, police officers from the same society express their biases freely through their discretion in upholding the law. Regardless of the cause for an officer’s implicit bias, the problem remains that SB4 like other Anti-Immigration laws are practiced with a racial target in mind. Even though an officer must have a probable cause for stopping an individual it has been proven by the arrests prompted by the War on Drugs, that probable cause can be anything. It can range from a minor traffic violation to an anonymous tip of possible criminal activity.

    Another major parallel is between the means the War on Drugs authorizes the same forms of discrimination authorized by Jim Crow against African Americans, and how the Anti-Immigration Laws authorize a mirrored discrimination against Latinos (Alexander, 2010, p. 140-178). Like the discrimination African Americans face post-completion of their incarceration, Latinos face the same types of legalized discrimination prior to any conviction whatsoever. For example, ex-convicts are denied or have minimal choices in housing, employment, and government assisted help. Laws have enabled apartments to deny an individual with a conviction record, and employment agencies may not be inclined to hire individuals with a criminal record.

    These legalized discrimination examples are just a few that immigrants live with day by day. There are Anti-Immigration Laws set in place to discourage landlords from renting to individuals who do not hold proper documentation. The same application can be seen in employment agencies since the same laws punish the employment of an illegal immigrant. Immigrants are then pushed into subordinate social and economic positions that label them as second-class individuals. Even though Anti-Immigrant Laws do not explicitly state that Latinos are barred from the same living, working or other public services as others, by practice and application immigrant Latinos are marginalized along with ex-convicts.

    For example, Jupiter, Florida authorized citizens to report a landlord if he or she believed they were renting to undocumented immigrants (McKanders, 2010). Therefore, landlords in the area were discouraged from renting to anyone that resembled an illegal immigrant in fear that he or she may, in fact, be illegal or harbor false documentation. In other words, the citizens of Jupiter, Florida had the legal authorization to discriminate and profile anyone of Latino descent as a possible criminal. Thus, these laws allow for the legal segregation of communities. Furthermore, legalized discrimination is not only applicable to illegal immigrants but to all immigrants.

    For example, a mandated requirement an immigrant must be wary of is whether he or she can be considered as a public charge. A public charge means that the individual is primarily dependent on government assistance. These types of Anti-Immigration statues discourage individuals from seeking welfare programs, in fear of their immigration status being revoked. In contrast, as a result of the War on Drugs and mass incarceration, many of ex-convicts are left ineligible to any government issued benefits (Alexander, 2010, p. 140-178). Ex-convicts are denied any government assistance such as food stamps, housing, or health programs (Alexander, 2010, p. 140-178). Overall legal discrimination enables racial social control to continue to extend their power over minorities. The following opposing argument will attempt to justify the need for the Anti-Immigration Laws to stay in place in the account of the safety of American citizens.

    An opposing view to the argument that the Anti-Immigration System is a social control system that is racialized much like the War on Drugs aims for a racial control of African American communities, the immigration system of today focuses on those of Latin American descent is on the basis that the target of the Anti-Immigration System is to punish and discourage illegal immigration. The popular justification consists of the notion that upholding the law against illegal immigration is not something that should be negated or frowned upon. An individual that illegally immigrates into the country should not be allowed to seek the benefits as those that have arrived in the U.S by legal means or been adopted through neutralization laws. Therefore, the Anti-Immigration system is not a social control system that targets individuals of Latin descent, but a system that seeks to control the amount of illegal immigration into the U.S.

    The opposing argument does hold some truth. The Anti-Immigration system aims to control the amount of illegal immigration into the United States. Nevertheless, the practice not only targets individuals who are illegal aliens but criminalizes the race of a group of individuals predominantly Latinos. It calls for the discrimination of individuals that represent the physical characteristics of an illegal alien, despite his or her immigration status. Anti-Immigration laws do not take into account that there are different categories of Latino immigrants (McKanders, 2010). For instance, there are longstanding Latino citizens, who were residing in the land prior to the formation of the country (McKanders, 2010). There are naturalized Latino citizens, who have gained citizenship status such as those individuals who have been granted asylum. (McKanders, 2010).

    There are permanent Latino residents, even though their status can be revoked if they commit any crimes, they are still allowed to reside in the United States. (McKanders, 2010). Lastly, there is the category of Latinos that are undocumented immigrants, and whom the Anti-Immigration Laws aim to target. Nevertheless, in the application of Anti-Immigration Laws, law enforcement along with society members disregard the different categories a Latino individual may fall in. When profiling which Latino may be undocumented, all Latinos are viewed as suspicious to the law; therefore all Latinos are discriminated and criminalized by the law that intends to create a social control system that is racialized much like the War on Drugs aims for a racial control of African American communities. Its practice creates a social control that decides what types of communities Latinos reside in such as barrios, or what types of employments Latinos are pushed into such as manual labor or agricultural. Most importantly it pushes Latinos into a second-class status in which they are criminalized despite their true immigration status.

    The Anti-Immigration System’s laws, statutes, & ordinances is a social control system that requires improvement. The system must recognize that not all individuals of Latino descent are criminals and should not be subjected to criminalization on the account of race. African Americans fought and continue to fight against the criminalization and marginalization of their race; however, the War on Drugs continues to incarcerate and control their lives after incarceration. On the other side of the mirror, Anti-Immigration Laws are serving the same purpose except the primary target is Latinos. Consequently, in today’s world, an individual will more than likely lead a life of criminalization and discrimination if he or she is an African American or Latino.


    1. Alexander, M. (2010). The new Jim Crow Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. New York: New Press.
    2. McKanders, K. M. (2010). IDENTIFICATION OF RACE IN THE LAW: Sustaining Tiered Personhood: Jim Crow and Anti-Immigrant Laws. Harvard BlackLetter Law Journal, 26, 163. Retrieved from
    3. Tanya Golash-Boza. (2016). The Parallels between Mass Incarceration and Mass Deportation: An Intersectional Analysis of State Repression. Journal of World-Systems Research, Vol 22, Iss 2, Pp 484-509 (2016), (2), 484.

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