Law & Social Inquiry








Examining what we call “crimmigrating narratives,” we show that US immigration court criminalizes non-citizens, cements forms of social control, and dispenses punishment in a non-punitive legal setting. Building on theories of crimmigration and a sociology of narrative, we code, categorize, and describe third-party observations of detained immigration court hearings conducted in Fort Snelling, Minnesota, from July 2018 to June 2019. We identify and investigate structural factors of three key crimmigrating narratives in the courtroom: one based on threats (stories of the non-citizen’s criminal history and perceived danger to society), a second involving deservingness (stories of the non-citizen’s social ties, hardship, and belonging in the United States), and a third pertaining to their status as “impossible subjects” (stories rendering non-citizens “illegal,” categorically excludable, and contradictory to the law). Findings demonstrate that the courts’ prioritization of these three narratives disconnects detainees from their own socially organized experience and prevents them from fully engaging in the immigration court process. In closing, we discuss the potential implications of crimmigrating narratives for the US immigration legal system and non-citizen status.

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