Research to the Point Summary: Imprisonment of Non-Citizens on the Rise in the US

In the US non-citizens are increasingly being incarcerated, held for indeterminate periods of time often in unsafe conditions, and not afforded similar judicial processes as offenders who are US citizens. Crimmigration practices in the US have a number of significant issues associated with the blending of crime control and immigration enforcement.

Researchers: Mary Bosworth and Emma Kaufman

Keywords: Immigration, Imprisonment, Detention, Crimmigation, US

What does the evidence say?

Using official imprisonment data, the research found;

  • The number of non-citizens being detained in prisons/jails (52%) and immigration detentions centre had expanded more than four times in less than 20 years, with the population of total non-citizen prisoners being at 14% in state/federal facilities.
  • 36% of the detained population are Mexican citizens.
  • There is a disproportionate increase in the imprisonment of foreign-born offenders versus citizen offenders (15% versus 10% rise) and this only includes available figures, as detainees within US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) field offices remain unknown.

The research documents the aggressive pursuit of “crimmigration” within the US, particularly from the mid-1990s onward. Although immigration detainees are likely to be more vulnerable than the average citizen offender, these detainees are not given the same level of legal protections and face additional issues including lack of judicial review, double punishments, and a lack of time restriction on detention. ICE operates its detention facilities based on prisons and uses the language of criminalization around the detainees, but they are not held to the regulations of prisons. Lastly, this research identifies the serious issues concerning conditions in facilities of ICE processing centres, in reflection to the vulnerability of this population.

What does it mean?

Imprisonment of non-citizens has been steadily increasing in the US and the rights of these prisoners are not protected by law which has led to abuses.

How was the research done?

The research examines official statistics, legislation such as IIRIRA, AEDPA, Patriot Act, “Secure Communities” and the institutions of CCTV along the border by Texas, SB 1070 in Arizona, and volunteer groups in border states which patrol to catch undocumented migrants.

Read the full article

Bosworth, M. & Kaufman, E.  (2011) ‘Foreigners in a carceral age: Immigration and imprisonment in the United States” Stanford Law & Policy Review, 22(1): 429-454.

 For further expert advice

Mary Bosworth

Border Crossing Observatory


About brandyc

PhD Candidate, Momash University Communication & Media Strategist, Border Crossing Observatory: Research Assistant Post-Graduate Representative, Sustainable Transport Committee Blog: Twitter: @brandy_cochrane