Over time the federal government has passed numerous laws and increased enforcement efforts to thwart the entry of criminal immigrants and to make it easier to deport alien criminals who are in the country, including those who have committed their crimes after arriving. During the late twentieth century, the list of criminal activities for which aliens could be deported was expanded greatly, increasing arrests and detentions and driving up costs to the government for carrying out enforcement activities.
Immigrants who committed crimes in other countries have been entering the United States since the first Europeans began arriving in the colonies during the early seventeenth century. However, many early immigrants were considered “criminals” simply because poverty had driven them to break harsh European laws that made seemingly petty crimes such as stealing bread, pickpocketing, and vagrancy felony offenses. Consequently, many so-called felons who immigrated to America were actually merely petty criminals.
After the United States became independent in 1783, federal government officials were lax in dealing with criminal immigrants. However, the great waves of newcomers arriving from Europe after the 1820’s spurred more aggressive efforts, first by the individual states and eventually by federal authorities, to bar persons with criminal records from entering the country and to detain and deport immigrants who committed crimes after arriving in the United States.
National immigration policy was slow to develop after independence. Initially each state was responsible for overseeing foreign immigration. Most states had laws prohibiting criminals from gaining admittance, but these laws were so loosely enforced that many foreigners with criminal records in their home countries entered the United States legally. In 1875, the federal government finally entered the effort to prohibit immigration by criminals by passing the
Despite these new laws, lax enforcement continued to permit many immigrants with criminal records–especially those from
The U.S. government has often used its power to deport undesirables as a means of ridding the country of notorious criminal immigrants. In some cases, deportation was used to guarantee that the person would no longer be able to pursue criminal activities in the United States. For example, deportation procedures were used to remove a number of important Mafia figures. One of the most notable Mafia figures was
Sicilian-born mobster Charles “Lucky” Luciano leaving a New York court appearance in 1936, when he received a long prison sentence for running a prostitution ring. He was paroled in 1946 on the condition that he return permanently to Sicily. He never came back to the United States but later tried to run criminal activities in the United States from Cuba.
Another category of criminal immigrants who received significant publicity after World War II
In 1979, the U.S. Justice Department established the Office of Special Investigations to help root out Nazi war criminals living in the United States. Among the more famous criminals identified and deported was
Despite strong government efforts to apprehend and deport war criminals, lengthy court battles have frequently permitted many war criminals
Accused war criminal John Demjanjuk (center) in 1986, after being deported to Israel, where he was convicted of having been the notorious “Ivan the Terrible” in the Treblinka concentration camp during World War II. After his conviction was overturned on the basis of reasonable doubt in 1993, he was returned to the United States, only to face new charges of having served in Nazi death camps. In 2005, the United States tried to deport him again, but no country would accept him. In 2009, however, he was deported to Germany to stand trial on nearly 28,000 counts of being an accessory to murder.
During the second half of the twentieth century, the bulk of “criminal” immigrants in the United States were
Meanwhile, federal efforts to limit legal immigration from Mexico made possible a
At the end of the twentieth century, a high percentage of inmates in federal prisons were immigrants who had been arrested and were being held for entering the country illegally, but who had committed no other crime. At the same time, gangs in many metropolitan areas contained large populations of illegal immigrants. While apprehension and deportation of these individuals became a priority for the U.S. government, the porous border between the United States and Mexico made it easy for recently deported persons to sneak back into the United States.
After the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington of September 11, 2001, the U.S. government stepped up efforts to find and deport undocumented aliens, especially those of Middle Eastern descent and Muslims of all nationalities. Although the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed the right of immigrants to
The cost of dealing with criminal activity attributable to immigrants is often hard to calculate. Best estimates in the early years of the twenty-first century indicated that expenses for enforcement operations, court systems, and incarceration facilities were running into billions of dollars annually.
Brotherton, David C., and Philip Kretsedemas, eds. Keeping Out the Other: A Critical Introduction to Immigration Enforcement Today. New York: Columbia University Press, 2008. Collection of essays investigating the federal government’s attempts to control immigrant populations through a series of laws that consistently expanded the number of crimes for which deportation was permissible. Finckenauer, James O., and Elin J. Waring. Russian Mafia in America: Immigration, Culture, and Crime. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1998. Describes activities of criminal elements among Russian immigrants, compares their activities to elements in other immigrant groups, and describes efforts of law enforcement to deal with these criminals. Martinez, Ramiro, Jr., and Abel Valenzuela Jr., eds. Immigration and Crime: Race, Ethnicity, and Violence. New York: New York University Press, 2006. Collection of essays exploring the causes for criminality among immigrants. Includes discussions focusing on behavior of specific ethnic groups in several major American urban centers. Provides an extensive list of sources for further study. Ryan, Allan A., Jr. Quiet Neighbors: Prosecuting Nazi War Criminals in America. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1984. Study of the U.S. government’s efforts to identify and extradite or deport Nazi war criminals, compiled by a member of the Justice Department’s Office of Special Prosecution. Waters, Tony. Crime and Immigrant Youth. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications, 1999. Sociological study that attempts to account for cultural and sociological factors influencing criminal behavior of young members of immigrant communities. Traces the history of crimes committed by youthful immigrants in America.
Russian and Soviet immigrants
Smuggling of immigrants
“Undesirable aliens”“Undesirable aliens”