Session II: Raids, Race, and Criminalization: Understanding the Connections

Both the immigration and criminal justice systems have always been linked and racialized. So, it is no surprise that Black immigrants are at heightened risk of detention and deportation. Just as police contact can have disastrous consequences for Black undocumented immigrants, we know all too well what police contact can mean for Black people born in the U.S. […]

Thus, policies that address racist policing, incarceration and criminalization must be part of the demands of the immigrant rights movement. As long as the immigration and criminal justice systems are interconnected, creating real sanctuary cities is an issue of linked fate and real practical, principled solidarity.

—  Janaé Bonsu, BYP 100, “Black People Need Sanctuary Cities Too.”

This session will break down the concept of criminalization and reveal the connections between immigration enforcement, mass incarceration and white supremacy in U.S. society. 

As in the previous session, multiple readings and resources are spotlighted below. In order to save time during the session, larger groups can divide into pairs who each complete one of the readings and report back key take-aways to the larger group.

The session is designed with the expectation that participants have had different experiences with police and the criminal justice system and will have different attitudes toward them. Facilitators are encouraged to cultivate an open and non-judgmental atmosphere. It may be helpful to refer back to the “Anti-Racist and Anti-Oppressive Facilitation” section on the home page of this guide.

Tech Needs:

Laptops or other devices with internet connection. Projector and hook-up to show a video.


Before doing any of the readings in this session, groups should try the following spectrum activity. Using a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being strongly disagree and 10 being strongly agree) write down how you feel about each of the following statements. Please keep your responses private, and try to be as honest as possible to your real feelings.

  • “Sanctuary” and “expanded sanctuary” seem like basically good ideas, but I worry they will allow dangerous people to remain in places where they can hurt others.
  • I don’t think there’s a legitimate role for information sharing between federal immigration enforcement and local authorities.
  • I believe people bear primary responsibility for their actions, and the consequences of those actions.
  • I believe people are heavily influenced by environmental forces, and that we need to look at social structures when talking about crime.
  • President Obama’s promise to deport “felonies, not families” seems like a fair and reasonable way to conduct immigration enforcement.
  • I don’t think there are any circumstances that can justify deportation.
  • I don’t think there are any circumstances that can justify incarceration.
  • Criminal justice reform and immigration reform are separate issues.

(10 min.)


What do we mean when we say “criminalization”? Check out this blog to learn more. (6 min)


The criminalization of Black communities in the United States and the mass deportation of immigrants are closely intertwined. Policies and practices such as mass arrests, stop-and-frisk and over-policing harm Black communities at the same time that they directly contribute to mass deportation. Check out this BAJI video from 2014, which breaks this process down. (4 min)


This op-ed explains the threats that undocumented Black immigrants face from being dually criminalized. Written by the director of UndocuBlack’s Mental Wellness Initiative, which works to meet the mental health needs of Black immigrants who are undocumented or have DACA and TPS status, struggling with pervasive insecurity and vulnerability in the United States. (5 min)


BAJI’s report lays out the case that black immigrants have been disproportionately impacted by mass criminalization and mass deportation, living in the cross-hairs of both the U.S. policing system and immigration enforcement. This report also shows that the criminalization of Black immigrants long predates Trump, even if he has exacerbated it. Please read p. 12 and pp. 20-23. (5 min.)

In creating a “good” versus “bad” migrant binary, President Obama sought to justify a detention and removal campaign that oversaw the deportation of a record 438,421 immigrants in fiscal year 2013 —an increase that has led some to refer to President Obama as ‘deporter-in-chief.’[…]

In a national address in November 2014, President Obama announced that he would focus immigration enforcement resources on individuals with criminal records—‘felons, not families.’ This phrase has been widely criticized as devaluing and dehumanizing individuals with criminal convictions. After all, ‘felons’ have families, too.

— BAJI, “The State of Black Immigrants”

Questions for Discussion and Reflection:
  • How did you feel about the term criminalization before this session? Was it a term you heard, read or used often? How do you feel about the term now?
  • Look back to the responses you wrote down to the spectrum activity at the beginning of this session. Based on what you learned in the readings, would you change any of your answers? Why or why not? Feel free to share your reflections if you would like to do so, but no obligation.
  • In what ways do you think your personal background, identity, and life experiences may have informed your answers on the spectrum activity?

(20 min.)

Photo thanks to Rev. Amy Freedman, used with permission.

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