Sociologist Reuben J. Miller shared highlights from his new book on the inequities of the U.S. criminal justice system during a virtual dialogue on March 11, part of the Transdisciplinary Speaker Series at UCLA Luskin. “Halfway Home: Race, Punishment and the Afterlife of Mass Incarceration” is the culmination of Miller’s years of research in Chicago and Detroit, including over 250 interviews with prisoners, former prisoners, and their friends and families. “It takes more than a few hours and a few cups of coffee to learn about a person,” said Miller, explaining that he wanted to move past the caricatures we have learned to embrace. In the second half of the event, Social Welfare Chair Laura Abrams moderated a discussion about the repercussions of mass incarceration. Michael Mendoza, director of national advocacy for the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, said prison is like a ghost that follows you throughout your life. “The prison-industrial complex doesn’t just punish people physically but emotionally and mentally as people try to get their footing on the ground,” he said. Amada Armenta Ph.D. sociology ’11, associate professor of urban planning, noted the importance of producing research on criminal justice that is accessible for readers in order to facilitate a dialogue. Isaac Bryan MPP ’18, director of the Black Policy Project at UCLA, spoke about making a radical commitment to recognizing the full humanity of people and the role that policy can play in mitigating systems of harm. “This book uplifts voices that need to be heard,” Bryan said. “This book can propel us forward and was made for a moment like this.” — Zoe Day
Associate Professor of Urban Planning Amada Armenta spoke to the San Francisco Chronicle about Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s pledge to scale back laws requiring local police to participate in federal immigration enforcement. If elected, Biden plans to limit Section 287(g), which allows local governments to reach agreements with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to aid in enforcing federal law. Armenta accompanied police officers on ride-alongs in Tennessee during the street-enforcement phase of 287(g). Her book about the experience noted that most of the immigrants held for deportation were detained for driving without a license. “Ending the ICE contracts would mean that millions of immigrants would be less afraid that a minor infraction (such as driving without a license or fishing without a license) would result in their deportation,” Armenta said. “ICE is not removing most people identified through 287(g) because they’re dangerous. They’re removing them because they have the authority to do so.”
Associate Professor of Urban Planning Amada Armenta was featured in a Conversations with Changemakers interview about the complex relationship between Latino communities and law enforcement. The criminalization of most everyday activities of undocumented immigrants makes it almost impossible for local law enforcement agencies not to help with immigration enforcement through their routine patrol practices, even in sanctuary cities, Armenta explained. Through interviews, Armenta found that many Latino immigrants had favorable views of the police. However, negative interactions with police — including searches without clear warrants, being pushed and having guns waved in their faces — made many hesitant to call the police in the future. “The same aggressive practices that lead to police murders and mass incarceration are the same aggressive policing practices that lead to arrests of Latinos and Latino immigrants and mass deportation,” she explained. Law enforcement’s history of protecting whiteness and property have made the notion of a “just criminal justice system” remote, she concluded.
Assistant Professor of Urban Planning Amada Armenta was chosen by the Russell Sage Foundation as one of 17 visiting scholars for the 2020-2021 academic year. Armenta will pursue her research on race, ethnicity and immigration while in residence at the foundation’s headquarters in New York City starting in September. The selection of Visiting Scholars is based on an individual’s demonstrated record of research accomplishment and the merit of the proposed project. Armenta will study the legal attitudes of immigrants, focusing on how they understand and make decisions about migration, driving, working, calling the police, securing identification and paying taxes. Her research will culminate in a book analyzing the experiences of undocumented Mexican immigrants in Philadelphia. This will be Armenta’s second book, following the award-winning “Protect, Serve, and Deport: The Rise of Policing as Immigration Enforcement” (2017), which analyzed the role that local police and jail employees played in immigration enforcement in Nashville, Tennessee. The Russell Sage Foundation’s Visiting Scholars Program supports research into the social and behavioral sciences with the goal of improving living conditions in the United States. Research topics have included immigration, race and diversity, poverty, labor practices, gender inequality, climate change and natural disaster recovery.
About 30 undergraduate students from California and beyond convened at UCLA for a weekend of learning and public service, part of the not-for-profit Public Policy and International Affairs (PPIA) program. UCLA Luskin Public Policy hosted the program, “Advancing Social Justice Through Public Service: Lessons From California,” with senior lecturer Kenya Covington coordinating a full weekend of lectures, conversations and off-campus experiences. Students ventured out to MacArthur Park west of downtown Los Angeles, the Crenshaw District and the office of Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl to hear how policymakers are grappling with homelessness and gentrification. They heard from several MPP alumni from both the policy field and academia, and learned about public service career paths from Dean Gary Segura and other UCLA Luskin staff. Several members of the public policy and urban planning faculty shared research, insights and data-gathering techniques during the Oct. 4-6 event, including Amada Armenta, Kevin de León, Michael Lens, Michael Stoll and Chris Zepeda-Millán. Public Policy Chair JR DeShazo encouraged the students to engage intellectually, socially and emotionally as they explored policy challenges and prepared to make an impact in their own careers. The students formed working groups to synthesize what they had seen and heard, and presented their findings at the close of the program. Joining the large contingent of students from four-year and community colleges in California were participants from Arizona, Illinois, Michigan and Washington. The public service weekend was one of several outreaches around the country that are coordinated through PPIA to promote diversity in public service.
View photos from the PPIA public service weekend on Flickr.
Amada Armenta, assistant professor of urban planning, penned a post on the role of dignity in the immigration debate for Oxford University’s Border Criminologies blog. “Decriminalizing immigration offenses and creating a path to a legal and permanent immigration status would allow millions of immigrants to live more dignified lives,” Armenta wrote. But she cautioned that deploying arguments that rely on immigrants’ dignity may actually be counterproductive. “To combat stereotypes about immigrants’ criminality, we rely on tropes that highlight immigrants’ best qualities — they work hard, they provide for their families, and they do not commit ‘real’ crimes,” she wrote. “However, in our attempts to legitimize immigrants, to convince people that they ‘deserve’ policies that would be less harmful, we inevitably leave people out. We may champion the most ‘worthy’ and exceptional immigrants at the expense of those for whom it is more difficult to advocate, such as those with criminal convictions or prior deportation orders.”
Four members of the UCLA Luskin faculty have received research grants from the Institute on Inequality and Democracy. The 2019-20 grants, among 10 awarded to faculty across the UCLA campus, support research, scholarship and teaching that challenge established academic wisdom, contribute to public debate and/or strengthen communities and movements, the institute said. UCLA Luskin recipients are:
- Amada Armenta, assistant professor of urban planning, who will study undocumented Mexican immigrants in Philadelphia and their layered, complex relationship with the legal system in their everyday lives.
- Kian Goh, assistant professor of urban planning, who will use the lessons of Hurricane Sandy to research the key role public housing and infrastructure play in the quest for climate justice.
- Paul Ong, research professor and director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge, who will create multimedia public narratives that document the stresses of gentrification, displacement and other community changes.
- Amy Ritterbusch, assistant professor of social welfare, who will develop a restorative justice initiative to take research to the streets, producing knowledge about historically misrepresented communities beyond the confines of academic publication traditions.
In addition to awarding faculty grants of up to $10,000, the Institute on Inequality and Democracy supports research by graduate student working groups. The six groups announced for the 2019-2020 academic year include several urban planning and social welfare students from UCLA Luskin.
“Protect, Serve, and Deport: The Rise of Policing as Immigration Enforcement,” written by Assistant Professor of Urban Planning Amada Armenta, has received two awards from the American Sociological Association (ASA). The book explains how local police and jail employees in Nashville, Tenn., were pulled into a federal deportation system that removed nearly 10,000 immigrants in five years, many for minor violations. Armenta will accept the Distinguished Book Award from the Sociology of Law Section and the Distinguished Contribution to Research Book Award from the Latina/o Sociology Section at the ASA’s annual meeting in New York from Aug. 10-13. At the conference, Armenta will also present research from her ongoing project on unauthorized immigrants in Philadelphia.
Amada Armenta, an assistant professor of urban planning, co-authored the research article “Beyond the Fear of Deportation: Understanding Unauthorized Immigrants’ Ambivalence Toward the Police,” which was recently published in American Behavioral Scientist. Armenta and co-author Rocío Rosales examined unauthorized Mexican immigrants’ perceptions of and experiences with police in Los Angeles and Philadelphia. While much of the existing research focuses on undocumented immigrants’ negative attitudes toward police as a result of fear of deportation, Armada and Rosales used in-depth interviews and ethnography to gain a better understanding of the immigrants’ perceptions of police. Their research article found that most undocumented immigrants are ambivalent about American police, “believing them to be both trustworthy and overly punitive.” Interviews indicated that “compared with police forces in Mexico, [many undocumented immigrants] believe that U.S. police are honest, hardworking and trustworthy.” Even those who do not hold the police in high regard may choose to trust them under certain circumstances. “Positive interactions with the police can shape immigrants’ legal attitudes such that they feel empowered to call the police for help,” the article noted. The study is a valuable addition to research on minorities’ relationships with police, which is mostly focused on the experiences of African American citizens. Armenta is the author of an award-winning book on immigration enforcement in Nashville, Tennessee, and is currently working on a second book examining the legal attitudes of undocumented immigrants in Philadelphia.
By Gabriela Solis
A recent UCLA conference sought to fill a knowledge gap about how Latinos interact with the criminal justice system.
With themes such as policing of Latinx communities, community organizing, adjudication and norms, ethics and constitutional culture, the Feb. 8, 2019, conference held at the UCLA School of Law combined the resources of the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative (LPPI), UCLA Law Review and the Bruin X Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. Community advocates, scholars, staff, undergraduates and graduate students heard from a variety of experts, including several UCLA faculty members associated with LPPI.
The first panel, moderated by UCLA Law Professor Laura Gómez, sought to establish the context for discussion of Latinos and the criminal justice system.
“Latino-ness is very contingent,” said Victoria Plaut, professor of law and social science at UC Berkeley, referring to common generalizations about their characteristics. “Latinos are hardworking but lazy; family-oriented but not warm.”
Plaut, a clinical psychologist, shared findings from her research of the psychological processes relevant to diversity and inclusion in legal, educational and workplace settings to highlight the beliefs that often frame Latino experiences.
The panel included Matt Barreto, professor of political science and Chicana/o studies, and Kelly Lytle Hernández, professor of history and African American studies. They spoke about the importance of collecting both qualitative and quantitative data, especially because data from criminal justice entities can be unreliable and inconsistent.
Another panel, moderated by Law Professor Jennifer Chacón, focused on the policing of Latinx communities. During this panel, Amada Armenta, assistant professor of urban planning, shared her expertise on this issue, the subject of her award-winning book “Protect, Serve and Deport: The Rise of Policing as Immigration Enforcement.” Armenta’s ethnographic research in Nashville, Tennessee, studied the role of local law enforcement agencies in immigration enforcement. She described how the logic and culture of policing negatively affected Latino immigrant neighborhoods. Police were incentivized to make as many stops as possible and pull over as many people as possible, Armenta said.
Sonja Diaz, executive director of LPPI, moderated a panel that explored successful methods of organizing communities to change laws, with a focus on direct democracy as a vehicle for criminal justice reform.
Panelist Juan Cartagena, president and general counsel of LatinoJustice PRLDEF, shared his successful experiences with Florida’s Proposition 4, the Voting Rights Restoration for Felons Initiative. Passage of the initiative restored the right to vote for people in Florida with prior felony convictions.
Cartagena stressed that it is important for individuals with personal experience to participate as leaders in a movement. He also urged organizers to think strategically about how to frame the problem, which he said was essential in the Florida campaign’s victory. The campaign’s focus on second chances resonated well with Florida voters, Cartagena said.
All panels provided a unique perspective on how Latinos fare in the criminal justice system — a sorely under-researched topic, especially by legal scholars.
Learn more about Latinos and the criminal justice system.