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Handcuffs and Chain Link

Criminalizing the Undocumented in America
Benjamin Gonzalez O'Brien

BUY Ebook · 192 pp. · ISBN 9780813941332 · $30.00 · Jul 2018
BUY Cloth · 192 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813941325 · $30.00 · Jul 2018

CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title, American Library Association (2019)

Handcuffs and Chain Link enters the immigration debate by addressing one of its most controversial aspects: the criminalization both of extralegal immigration to the United States and of immigrants themselves in popular and political discourse. Looking at the factors that led up to criminalization, Benjamin Gonzalez O’Brien points to the alternative approach of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 and how its ultimate demise served to negatively reinforce the fictitious association of extralegal immigrants with criminality.

Crucial to Gonzalez O’Brien’s account thus is the concept of the critical policy failure—a piece of legislation that attempts a radically different approach to a major issue but has shortcomings that ultimately further entrench the approach it was designed to supplant. The IRCA was just such a piece of legislation. It highlighted the contributions of the undocumented and offered amnesty to some while attempting to stem the flow of extralegal immigration by holding employers accountable for hiring the undocumented. The failure of this effort at decriminalization prompted a return to criminalization with a vengeance, leading to the stalemate on immigration policy that persists to this day.


Handcuffs and Chain Link offers an illuminating take on the politics of undocumented immigration in the United States. Gonzalez O’Brien seamlessly integrates key themes of criminality, illegality, and federal policy, filling an important hole in the field.

Natalie Masuoka, coauthor of  The Politics of Belonging: Race, Public Opinion, and Immigration

Beyond its brilliant analysis of the political history of immigration debates, Handcuffs and Chain Link shows the origins and consequences of negative stereotypes against Latino immigrants in the U.S. today. Anyone interested in understanding American immigration policy past, present and future should have this exceptional, must-read, book on their shelf.

Matt A. Barreto, University of California, Los Angeles, author of Ethnic Cues: The Role of Shared Ethnicity in Latino Political Behavior

This book contributes to understanding of the political history and the evolution of public policy responses to immigration. Well researched, accessible, and engaging, this text should be used in political science, border studies, sociology, public policy, and research methods classes. Summing Up: Highly recommended.


Handcuffs and Chain Link: Criminalizing the Undocumented in America, which traces the roots and continued linkage between undocumented immigration and undocumented immigrants and criminality, is extremely timely.... [Gonzalez O'Brien] provides a compelling contribution to several fields including public policy, political science, and migration studies.... [the] thoughtful and persuasive book is a beneficial read to individuals both inside and outside of the academy.

Criminal Law and Criminal Justice Books

About the Author(s): 

Benjamin Gonzalez O’Brien is Professor of Political Science at San Diego State University.

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