“Felons, not Families”: Criminalized illegality, stigma, and membership of deported “criminal aliens”


  • Heidy Sarabia California State University, Sacramento




criminal aliens, crimmigration, deportation, stigma, illegality


Since the 1990s, U.S. immigration enforcement has focused on detaining and deporting unauthorized migrants labeled as “criminal aliens,” most of whom (about three-fourths) are Mexican nationals. Yet, little data exist on this population of migrants. Using a transnational lens, and drawing from analysis of government and media, as well as participant observation data collected along the border, this article shows the consequences of the stigmatization and integration of those migrants deported as “criminal aliens,” in both Mexico and the U.S.  While the framing of illegality has dominated the literature on unauthorized migrants in the U.S., I argue that the focus on deporting “criminal aliens” marks a shift from “illegalization” to the “criminalization” of immigration enforcement in the U.S. In particular, I highlight how the focus on deporting migrants as “criminal aliens” results in the criminalization of their illegality; that is, Latino non-citizens who are deported become criminalized perpetual outlaws because the label “criminal aliens” is legally permanent, with severe consequences for their identity and membership in both Mexico and the U.S.


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Author Biography

Heidy Sarabia, California State University, Sacramento

Sociology Department, Assistant Professor




How to Cite

Sarabia, H. (2018). “Felons, not Families”: Criminalized illegality, stigma, and membership of deported “criminal aliens”. Migration Letters, 15(2), 284–300. https://doi.org/10.33182/ml.v15i2.374