Guest post by Bill de la Rosa, MSc Student at the Centre for Criminology.

On Thursday, February 21, Julia Stumpf, Professor of Law at Lewis & Clark and pioneer in the field of crimmigration, gave a thought-provoking talk about her current work. Drawing on several recent events and the three theories of crimmigration, border penology, and enemy penology, she convincingly argued that the portrayal of everyday crime through the lens of border control and securitization create a platform for new legal frameworks of exclusion.

Criminality, Border Control, and National Security

Her talk began with a vivid description of two incidents that exemplify a connection between criminality, border control, and national security. The first instance took place in the Netherlands in May 2017 and involved a dark-haired boy who attacked a blond boy holding a crutch. The second event concerned two U.S. Border Patrol agents who were found critically injured in Texas in November 2017—one of whom did not survive. These incidents occurred worlds apart at different times.

What do the examples above share in common? For Professor Stumpf, three things bind them together. First, both episodes were grossly misinterpreted, based on racial and religious prejudices. A video of the event in the Netherlands resurfaced in November 2017 when Britain First, a fascist political group, tweeted it along with two other anti-Muslim videos. One of the captions wrongly depicted the teenage offender as a ‘Muslim migrant.’ U.S. President Trump then retweeted this lie and the videos’ latent bigotries to his then 43.6 million followers. Similarly, in Texas, the National Border Patrol Council and public officials, including the American president, quickly presumed that undocumented immigrants ambushed both agents (a federal investigation later found no evidence of an attack).

The second relation concerns how both events became relaying cries for national security. When the White House secretary was asked why President Trump retweeted the anti-Muslim videos, she maintained that there is real threat of extreme terrorism and called for national security. Likewise, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz labelled the tragedy in Texas a “stark reminder” of the “threat that an unsecured border poses”, while the president tweeted that a physical wall on the U.S.-Mexico border must be built.

According to Professor Stumpf, the third and most important commonality is that while the two cases were fabricated as threats, they never actually suggested an actual act of terrorism or threatened national security. Both stories significantly illuminated how “everyday criminality is yoked to immigration control and to the pulse-quickening call of national security.” For her, this recharacterization of crime “shifts the frame from the idea that terrorism arises beyond the border, to the notion that national security arises terrifyingly within the everyday, domestic business of criminal justice.”

Indeed, central to her thesis was the idea that common criminality is reconfigured as it becomes associated with border control and securitization. This reconfiguration facilitates new legal frameworks, and while they may be short-lived, “they leave lasting habits through institutions and apparatuses of governmentality.” Before diving into the legal frameworks that Professor Stumpf discussed, it is important to establish the theory that supported her analysis.

Crimmigration, Border Penology, and Enemy Penology

To think about the terrorism of everyday crime, Professor Stumpf cited Jude McCulloch’s and Leanne Weber’s recent critical review on the three theories of crimmigration, border penology, and enemy penology as a key starting point.

In the review, the two criminologists compare and contrast the three concepts’ main theoretical contributions. According to them, while the theories overlap, they each emphasize a specific feature of border control: Juliet Stumpf’s crimmigration thesis concerns the how of border control, Mary Bosworth and Mhairi Guild’s border penology answers the why of border control, and Susan Krasmann’s critique of Gunther Jakobs’s enemy penology thesis examines the when of border control. All three theories consider who lies in the zone of exclusion, which often depends on race, citizenship, gender, and history of colonization.

These border control theories reveal how sovereign power expands to exclude, how criminalizing discourses justify punitive policies, and how new forms of prevention contribute to securitization. For Professor Stumpf, these concepts help explain the significance of both incidents in the Netherlands and Texas. They “illustrate the merging of narratives and legal systems in ways that augment governmentality and social control of immigrants”. This amalgamating process provides a basis for powerful legal rule making, which I now turn to.

Legal Frameworks of Exclusion

The three-point nexus between criminality, border control, and national security facilitates the expansion of sovereign power, which leave lasting exclusionary effects. According to Professor Stumpf, once the public bridges migrants with crime and national security, the call for state action becomes stronger through immediacy and regularity. She cited two recent legal examples that demonstrate the state’s use of this nexus.

The first case concerns the Trump administration’s policy of separating children from their non-citizen parents. Here, the government framed the crisis as a national security issue and relied on the criminal justice system to justify its practices. For instance, Jeff Sessions, the Attorney General at the time, prosecuted 100 percent of all unauthorized entries, while Kirstjen Nielsen, Department of Homeland Secretary, said separating families at the border was no different from separating U.S. citizen parents who commit a crime from their child.

The second example relates to the Trump administration’s remain in Mexico policy, which allows the government to deport asylum seekers from the U.S. to Mexico while they await court hearings. The policy was implemented in response to a migrant caravan from Central America, and only after members of the caravan were labelled as “dangerous criminals” and the national guard was called to securitize the border.

Although the ‘remain in Mexico’ policy is presently under challenge, the policy of separating families at the border has stopped. In the end, however, Professor Stumpf suggested these policies will have instituted physical apparatuses and legal precedents that pave the way for other state actors to exploit.

Professor Stumpf’s observations were insightful and raised a number of questions. For instance, how does the person in power affect the three-point nexus? What role does political ideology play? Does the nexus contain a temporal aspect? The present day’s increased globalization, growth of white nationalism, and spread of post-truth politics suggest it may be. Nevertheless, her lecture on the terrorism of everyday crime challenged us to think empirically and conceptually about the conversion between everyday criminality, border control, and national security, and its purpose in the manifestation of state penal power.

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style) 

de la Rosa, B. (2019) The Terrorism of Everyday Crime: A Three-Point Nexus for Understanding New Legal Frameworks of Exclusion. Available at: https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/research-subject-groups/centre-criminology/centreborder-criminologies/blog/2019/03/ (Accessed [date])