Post by Alice Gerlach, DPhil candidate, Centre for Criminology, University of Oxford. You can follow Alice on Twitter @AliceGerlach.

Review of The Routledge Handbook on Crime and International Migration edited by Sharon Pickering and Julie Ham (Routledge, 2014)

The Routledge Handbook on Crime and International Migration provides a comprehensive overview of the complex relationship between migration and crime. Editors Sharon Pickering and Julie Ham engage the reader by showcasing a range of new and interesting research. The core argument of the book is that irregular migration has become perceived as a criminal threat with global implications. This argument is clearly presented throughout the handbook, making it a useful tool for anyone interested in immigration and crime. Organised into six sections, topics  include immigration and crime; crime control, criminal justice, and migration; the politics of migration, security, and crime; migration, law, and crime; crimes and mobility; and criminology and the border.

The book begins by setting out the historical linking of crime and migration such as from Chicago School sociologists who perceived immigration as a contributor to crime. Rebecca Wickes and Michelle Sydes begin this section by debunking this early perception, with international studies from the United States, thanks to Marjorie Zatz and Hilary Smith, and Sweden by Amber Beckley and colleagues, to support their arguments. In fact, these chapters demonstrate that many areas inhabited by migrant populations have lower incidences of crime. Why, then, the book asks, have criminal justice institutions in the global north reacted to increased migration around the world as though migrants were a threat to society?

In the following chapters, the focus turns to examine how the securitisation of borders has turned into the militarisation of borders, particularly in relation to the border between the US and Mexico. In an account from Hong Kong, Francesco Vecchio and Alison Gerard present the substandard conditions experienced by asylum seekers waiting for decisions on their claims. This adds to the earlier account from Sweden, where Beckley and others describe how the immigrant population has been marginalised in inferior neighbourhoods compared to their Swedish counterparts. A rare and interesting offer of statistics is also presented in this section by Leanne Weber, which brings together figures from multiple countries of the global north on their practices of deportation. An interesting find and glimmer of hope is that deportations aren’t increasing across all countries, despite the increase in criminalization, detention, and attempts to deport described in earlier chapters.

The fourth section of the Handbook turns to immigration law, including the legal rights of immigrants and the precarious lives of irregular migrants working in their host countries. Juliet Stumpf presents one of the more thorough accounts of crimmigration I’ve read, as the reader is shown how laws have changed to criminalise immigration offences that were formally administrative or civil offences. A particularly poignant chapter in this section is Ana Aliverti’s discussion of human rights and Europe, which focuses on the ways in which they are increasingly applicable only to the citizens within a sovereign state.

From the discussion of rights, the focus of the text moves to state interventions in immigration related activities. Here, the chapter by Gabriella Sanchez humanises the human smugglers on the Mexican border, showing how they are helping others to a better life. This  analysis differs from the typecast granted to them by the state as organised criminal gangsters who also smuggle drugs and other illicit contraband to the US. In another particularly welcome chapter, Sanja Milivojevic highlights how the interventions in Serbia warning women of potential trafficking are shown to unintentionally inhibit their movement. This adds another barrier to their mobility, contributing to the disparity in the number of women who reach the global north, relative to men.

The final chapters of the handbook bring the reader’s attention to theoretical concerns, neatly summing up the argument proposed in the body of the handbook that migration has become constituted a criminal threat. In this section, the reader is led through a historical account of mobility and border theories, and how criminology should be used to inform future discussion. Doris Provine and Marjorie Zatz’s chapter on borders, crime, and justice offers a particularly clear account, in what is almost a summary of the handbook to this point.

Overall, the Handbook is informative and thought provoking. I welcomed the discussion of the interplay of gender, race, and identity in mobility studies. The main strength of the text is in the presentation of new and interesting research. The first chapters in particular were stimulating in their debunking of the myth of a causal relationship between migration and crime. Throughout the book, work is advanced on topics that are often neglected in scholarship on borders and crime. Milivojevic, for instance, focuses on women who are vulnerable to trafficking, but also who are painted as helpless despite the resilience they show in their journeys. The use of figures and statistics, most notably from Weber’s chapter, is useful for its broader view of deportation practices in countries of the global north. The breadth of topics and disciplines covered in the book is another of its strengths. Readers have the option of immersing themselves in the whole text in full to gain understanding across many fields, or focusing in on one chapter or section to learn how borders and immigration are explored in their own discipline. Similarly, the breadth of references used by authors throughout the book make it a valuable starting point for further study of the subject.

I would have liked to hear more from people who are experiencing migration, though Mary Bosworth and Sarah Turnbull broached the subject in their chapter on immigration detention in the UK, as did Vecchio and Gerard in their discussions of asylum seekers in Hong Kong. In the final chapter, the authors reflect how many scholars of migration and movement are from the global north and how, as a result, it’s from this perspective that much scholarship is derived. As such, it would have been beneficial to allow space for the inclusion of scholars and research from the global south in this volume.

Overall, the editors can be commended on the depth of the topics presented and for including chapters that both inform the reader of the historical context of migration in the global north and introduce new research and topics for further investigation. The Handbook is an instructive starting point for any scholar with an interest in crime and migration, regardless of her or his discipline.

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style)

Gerlach, A. (2016) Book Review: The Routledge Handbook on Crime and International Migration. Available at: (Accessed [date]).