Skip to main content
No Access

Legal Violence: Immigration Law and the Lives of Central American Immigrants1

This article analyzes how Central American immigrants in tenuous legal statuses experience current immigration laws. Based on ethnographic observations and over 200 interviews conducted between 1998 and 2009 with immigrants in Los Angeles and Phoenix and individuals in sending communities, this study reveals how the convergence and implementation of immigration and criminal law constitute forms of violence. Drawing on theories of structural and symbolic violence, the authors use the analytic category “legal violence” to capture the normalized but cumulatively injurious effects of the law. The analysis focuses on three central and interrelated areas of immigrants’ lives—work, family, and schooling—to expose how the criminalization of immigrants at the federal, state, and local levels is not only exclusionary but also generates violent effects for individual immigrants and their families, affecting everyday lives and long-term incorporation processes.