Perception of Immmigrants and Crime: The Reality Check

Reviewed Media Source: Maria Full of Grace
Produced: Paul S. Mezey
Air Date: August 6, 2004
This movie helps us as a society understand the perceptions that media may display about immigrants; often these are the perceptions individuals use to determine their opinion about immigrants. The movie begins by showing us the life of a young seventeen-year-old girl, Maria Alvarez, living in Columbia. We learn quickly that she has a very difficult and stressful life to be as young as she is. The responsibility of providing financial assistance for her family gives her the important responsibility of taking care of her family. She works hard to provide for her family, often dealing with sweatshop like conditions while working. It doesn’t help that she also has a troubled love life with her boyfriend, she quickly learns that she has become pregnant. She quits her job and travels to Bogota, the capital of Columbia. She has intentions of finding a better job when she leaves, but little does she know her life is about to change. She meets a man who gives her a proposition to become a drug mule, meaning she will have to swallow and carry drugs into the United States. She accepts because she needs the money to support her family. Her pregnancy also becomes a valuable tool to avoid many of the airport’s extensive security checks.
It becomes very intense as we watch her swallow these large bags of cocaine to smuggle. As she enters the airport and takes her flight it is apparent that she is afraid and concerned for her life. She is also accompanied by other women who are also drug mules. When they reach the United States, she and the other women go to a hotel where the drug dealers wait for them to pass the pallets of drugs. One woman even dies after a bag busted inside of her. The dealers panic and cut her open to retrieve the remaining drugs before escaping. Maria and the other women begin to sell the rest of the drugs left behind to send the dead women home. After they received enough money the women had intentions of going back to Columbia permanently, but Maria decides that she will continue her life here in the United States instead.
This movie gives us an example of how immigrants are portrayed often, and that is for their relationship to crime. These narratives have shifted to images linking immigrants and immigration to crime ( Bosworth & Guild, 2008). As these depictions continue to influence individuals’ opinions about immigrants it also helps to fuel the criminalization of immigration, otherwise known as crimmigration. If there is a rising concern throughout the country that immigrants will participate in criminal behaviors, it will only be a supporting factor in targeting immigrants. Both the general public and policymakers have often seen immigration and crime as inextricably connected (Bucerius, 2011). We have even been presented with new information that insists that immigrants usually are not very active in crime, but this does not always persuade a change of heart. It was even found that immigrants are less likely to be convicted of serious crimes than native-born (Ewing, 2015). The perception that immigrants are criminals can lead to members of society being very understanding as to why increasing numbers of immigrants are being deported or detained. More currently, there are about 200 detention centers across the country (Gruberg, 2015). As the government continues to focus on limiting immigrants and immigration, they constantly push the narrative that immigrants will always have involvement in the crime in our country. Some of the most powerful leaders of our country have given their opinions about immigrants and crime, usually in a negative way. This can have a major impact on what society will begin to believe as well. The data collected from the General Social Survey indicated that about three-quarters of Americans believe that a rise in immigrant numbers causes higher crime rates (Rumbaut & Ewing, 2009). Although we do see the constant misrepresentation of immigrants, in some instances there can be some truth. We can see a relationship with immigrants and crime when analyzing their role in drug trafficking, which the movie gave us an example of. It was found that when it came to importing heroin, Columbian groups often dominate this high-level trafficking (Paoli & Reuter, 2008). This does not mean though that all immigrants are inevitably going to take part in criminal behaviors. There will continue to be positive and negative opinions of immigrants in our media, but the goal should be to inform individuals of real statistics, with the hope it can outweigh their perceived idea.
I believe that this movie gives us a good representation of how immigrants are portrayed in America. It also shows how difficult life can be for some of these immigrants, they often come here just looking for a place to start over. Although Maria was participating in the importation of illegal drugs it was hard not to have some sympathy because of her background. I think that sometimes this sympathy is why we see some support in favor of immigrants. This could even have a link to sanctuary cities potentially. There are individuals like me who believe that we need to hear their stories sometimes and not judge them based on what the media tells us about. The way immigrants are treated at times is just morally wrong and giving them a place to feel safe is important. I would recommend this movie to my classmates because it is very powerful. It allows us to see that connection between immigrants and crime, while also giving us insight into the stressful lives these immigrants often live before migrating.

Bosworth, M., & Guild, M. (2008). Governing through migration control: Security & citizenship in Britain. British Journal of Criminology, 48, 703-719.
Bucerius, S. M. (2011). Immigrants and crime. The Oxford Handbook of Crime and Criminal Justice, 385-419.
Ewing, W., Martinez, D.E., & Rumbaut, R. G. (2015). The Criminalization of Immigration in the United States. Washington.
Greberg, S. (2015). How for-profit companies are driving immigration detention policies. Center for American Progress.
Paoli, L., & Reuter, P. (2008). Drug trafficking and ethnic minorities in Western Europe. European Journal of Criminology, 5(1), 13-37.
Rumbaut, R. G., & Ewing, W. A. (2007). The myth of immigrant criminality and the paradox of assimilation: Incarceration rates among native and foreign-born men. Policy Center, American Immigration Law Foundation.

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