Document Type



The United States immigration regime has a long and sordid history of explicit racism, including limiting citizenship to free whites, excluding Chinese immigrants, deporting massive numbers of Mexican immigrants and U.S. citizens of Mexican ancestry, and implementing a national quotas system preferencing Western Europeans. More subtle bias has seeped into the system through the convergence of the criminal and immigration law regimes.

Immigration enforcement has seen a rise in mass immigrant detention and deportation, bolstered by provocative language casting immigrants as undeserving undesirables: criminals, gang members, and terrorists. Immigrant children, particularly black and Latino boys, are increasingly finding themselves in the cross hairs of a punitive immigration system, over-policing within schools, and law enforcement, all of which can be compounded by racial biases and a lack of special protections for youth in the immigration regime. The confluence of these systems results in a trajectory that has been referred to as “the school to deportation pipeline.” Gang allegations in immigration proceedings are an emerging practice in this trajectory. Using non-uniform and broad guidelines, law enforcement, school officials, and immigration agents may label immigrant youth as gang-affiliated based on youths’ clothes, friends, or even where they live. These allegations serve as the basis to detain, deny bond, deny immigration benefits, and deport youth in growing numbers.

This Article posits that gang allegations are a natural outgrowth of the convergence of the criminal and immigration schemes, serving as a means to preserve racial inequality. This Article further suggests excluding the consideration of gang allegations from immigration adjudications because their use undermines fundamental fairness. Finally, this Article proposes a three-pronged approach to counter the use of gang allegations, including initiatives to interrupt bias, take youthfulness into account, and increase access to counsel in immigration proceedings.