American Bar Foundation fellowship supports PhD candidate’s work on immigration and criminal law

By Meghan Chua


PhD candidate Isabel Anadon has received a prestigious fellowship from the American Bar Foundation to support her research on immigration policy and criminal law.

Anadon is a graduate student in the Department of Sociology and a fellow with the UW Justice Lab. The American Bar Foundation (ABF) fellowship will support her dissertation examining the institutions, laws, policies, and processes at the intersection of immigration and criminal law.

There is an increasing connection between immigration – generally considered a civil issue in the U.S. – and criminalization, Anadon said.

Isabel Anadon
Isabel Anadon is a PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology and a fellow at the UW Justice Lab.

“Over time we’re seeing increasing categories of punishment or criminalization of immigrants,” she said.

Her dissertation will examine this issue from a sociolegal lens to better understand how complex systems, policies, and actors interact when it comes to immigration policy and outcomes for immigrants.

Before coming to UW–Madison, Anadon worked on local and state immigration policy with the Latino Policy Forum in Chicago.

“During my work there, I realized and saw the tremendous amount of work that happens on the local level and state level around immigration, even though traditionally immigration is a federal issue,” she said. “However, states and localities play a big role in either promoting integration or promoting exclusion within their own localities.”

The amount of state-level immigration law has significantly increased over the last 15 years, Anadon said. Typically, states that pass restrictive immigration laws connect immigrants to a threat narrative, saying that states can’t respond to a growing immigration population.

Anadon said states will also, and falsely, claim that immigrants are more likely to increase violent crime. In a 2020 paper in the Marquette Law Review examining existing studies on immigration and violent crime, Anadon and sociology and Chican@/Latin@ studies professor Michael Light found very little evidence that immigration increases violent crime.

“This question examining the connection between immigration and violence has a long history in this country, and empirical studies continue to find no connection between the two, but this rhetoric continues to this day,” Anadon said. Not only is there no connection, Anadon added, but evidence suggests that immigrants generally have lower rates of violent crime in the U.S. than native born individuals.

Now, with the support of the ABF fellowship, Anadon will be able to build on her previous research around state-level immigration and further tie it to the broader policies and processes of enforcement that impact immigrants in the United States.

Anadon’s dissertation will focus on three areas. First, she’ll expand on her past work to write further about the enforcement of state-level immigration policies across state borders. Second, she’ll explore the connection between prison building and detention center building in the U.S. – a topic closely tied to her work thus far with the UW Justice Lab. Third, she will examine the processes of judicial decision-making over time that have been found to impact refugee outcomes, the length of detention for immigrants, and other factors.

In addition to funding and professional development support, the ABF fellowship will provide Anadon with a network of experts whom she can consult as she develops her dissertation. She will also have the opportunity to present her work during the fellowship’s seminar series, bringing the topic to a broader audience.

Anadon said her work with the UW Justice Lab, led by her advisor and sociology professor John Eason, has been crucial in developing this project. The lab’s mission is to end racial, economic, and health disparities by translating research done at UW–Madison into positive, real-world changes.

That mission speaks directly to what Anadon hopes will come of her dissertation research.

“I would love this work to impact policy in terms of really pushing for humane and just treatments of immigrants and their families here in the United States and shifting the conversation [away] from one of criminalization,” Anadon said. “We’re still – a century later – talking about immigrants as a threat when studies time, after time, after time have shown that this is not the case. Unfortunately, still having to speak to this rhetoric connecting immigrants with crime is something that I hope to continue to tamp down.”