The punitive meanings of immigration control within the realm of criminal courts’ decision-making: An in-depth qualitative case-study of the Spanish crimmigration regime

Byron Ernesto Villagómez Moncayo

Research output: ThesisDoctoral thesis 1 (Research UU / Graduation UU)


The contemporary convergence between immigration control and criminal justice entails a substantial reconfiguration of immigration control decision-making processes. One of the most significant features of this conversion is the increasing intervention of the criminal judiciary in matters related to immigration control. Deportation can be in many cases a consequence of a criminal conviction for a considerable number of crimes, and bail or sentencing decisions can be influenced by the migratory status and the deportation likelihood of a defendant. Although empirical research upon the convergence between immigration and criminal law has rapidly grown in the last decade, there is still a gap in the literature regarding the judicial decision-making processes and determinants of immigration control within the realm of criminal courts. This research purports to contribute to the scholarly research on such aspects by conducting an in-depth qualitative case-study analysis of a specific court setting. This dissertation focuses on Spain given that its legal migration regime shares many of the substantial aspects of the phenomenon described by the crimmigration concept. Despite irregular migration is not a criminal offence in that country, immigration detention is authorised by criminal judges and there is a series of expulsion (deportation) pathways available within criminal proceedings. Spain is a relevant research location in this regard due to its crucial role at controlling the Southern border of the so-called ‘fortress Europe’. Drawing on 78 in-depth semi-structured interviews with judges, prosecutors, court personnel, defence attorneys and other legal professionals, as well as focused observation for a period of eight months, this thesis seeks to ascertain the punitive meanings attributed by criminal court actors to immigration control. This research relies on organisational, social-psychological, and cultural frameworks for explaining judicial decision-making by criminal courts, focusing on immigration detention and expulsion throughout the criminal proceeding, which are in general administrative procedures under judicial supervision by criminal courts. Whilst assuming that the convergence between immigration control and criminal justice is a contemporary mechanism for the social construction of the ‘criminal immigrant’, the main findings of this study are structured in two parts. The first delves into the idiosyncratic features of immigration detention decision-making, and the second into the meanings ascribed by court actors to so called pre-trial, sentencing and post-sentence expulsion. This analysis evidences that immigration detention decision-making is substantially determined by the convergence of bureaucratically patterned decisional mechanics and the intrinsic criminal justice cultural identity of criminal courts. This embodies Kafkaesque dynamics characterised by automation, thoughtlessness and dehumanisation in decision-making. Furthermore, this research reveals that expulsion is a court’s culturally constructed punishment, defined more by the meanings produced and attributed to it by court actors than by its formal legal categorisation. Specifically, this thesis contends that expulsion is assessed by court actors in terms of its suitability for attaining such traditional purposes of punishment as incapacitation, deterrence and retribution. Therefore, this research concludes that immigration detention and expulsion are substantially traversed by the constitutive cultural identity of criminal courts, which in turn determines their key procedural traits and decisional outcomes.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Utrecht University
  • Vervaele, John, Supervisor
  • Hentschel, C., Supervisor, External person
Award date8 Mar 2019
Place of Publication[Utrecht]
Publication statusPublished - 8 Mar 2019


  • Immigration control
  • Sentencing
  • Judicial decision-making
  • Law in action
  • Immigration detention
  • Deportation
  • Spain
  • Qualitative research


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