After nearly a decade of hard-line enforcement against illegal immigrants under both the Bush and Obama administrations, one of the results is that Latinos now comprise about half of all new federally sentenced offenders.
And drug and immigration crimes taken together now account for nearly two-thirds of all federal convictions, says the Pew Research Center's Hispanic Trends Project.
Considering that there have been calls for decriminalization of both these kinds of violations, the data sheds at least some light on how the United States has ended up as the global incarceration champion – with a quarter of the world's prisoners:
The alarming figures come from the center's report, “The Rise of Federal Immigration Crimes,” released this week.
According to a summary, “In 1992, Latinos made up 23 percent of sentenced offenders; by 2012, that share had grown to 48 percent.”
These prisoners help to account for some of the explosion in federal sentences from 36,564 cases to 75,867 between 1992 and 2012, the report says.
A major source of these sentences was “unlawful reentry” convictions. Pew:
Between 1998 and 2010 alone, growth in the number of immigration offenders accounted for 56 percent of the increase in federal prison admissions.
Before 2005 or so, immigrants who tried to cross the border on their second try used to be sent back, Pew says. But after 2005, with a federal policy known as Operation Streamline, those folks were largely put before a judge, convicted, and put in prison.
So, um, those people many conservatives don't want in our country? We're keeping them in our country, sometimes for 2-year sentences, for stepping across a line and looking for work.
“One of the changes that Operation Streamline did was it reduced the use of voluntary returns,” one of the report's authors, Mark Hugo Lopez, told LA Weekly.
It has worked, however, you might argue. Maybe. It's not clear if the Great Recession or the great border crackdowns by George W. Bush and President Obama are the source of a reduction in illegal immigration.
This week immigrants' rights activists were decrying the so-called 2-millionth deportation under Obama's watch. So jailing and deportation are part of the mix even as illegal immigration deflated like real estate values in 2008.
According to Pew:
Between 2005 and 2011, the number of border apprehensions fell by more than half, from 1.2 million to 340,000.
The federal time for repeat border crossers “could have deterrent effect,” Lopez said, “but we can't tell for sure.”
Carl Bergquist, a policy specialist for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, says the Pew report documents the criminalization of the undocumented. He told us:
This report shows us the new, cruel and creative ways that the government uses to criminalize and then deport immigrants … There are less “voluntary returns” now, and more formal deportations. These types of prosecutions help fuel that, with devastating consequences for anyone caught (prison, banishment from US for something that historically was a civil offense). Talk about disproportional.
Even with a majority of Americans supporting immigration reform, proposals from the White House and Congress have contained further crackdowns at the border. You're getting what you wish for, America: