U.S. Sentencing Commission Data Reveals Dysfunction of U.S. Immigration System

Written by on September 9, 2011 in Enforcement, Immigration Courts, Reform with 6 Comments

Federal courts and prisons are being overwhelmed by the broken U.S. immigration system. That is one of the central points to emerge from data contained in a new report from the U.S. Sentencing Commission. It is also a point that is easily missed if you are looking at the wrong numbers. For instance, the numbers of Latinos and non-U.S. citizens who are sent to federal prison are startling. But even more startling is how many of them are going to federal prison because of non-violent immigration offenses. In defiance of common sense, they may be in federal prison even though they have not committed a violent crime or even a property crime. Their only crime might be entering the country without permission.

According to the report, Latinos (both native-born and foreign-born) accounted for half (50 percent) of all individuals sent to federal prison during the first nine months of Fiscal Year 2011. Of these 28,468 Latinos, 16,964 (or 60 percent) were sentenced for immigration violations. Non-U.S. citizens (of any ethnicity or race) accounted for just under half (48 percent) of people sent to federal prison. Of these 28,648 non-citizens, 20,303 (or 71 percent) were sentenced for immigration violations. Overall, immigration offenses accounted for one third (35 percent) of all sentences handed down.

As the report describes, a wide range of immigration offenses are lumped together in these numbers: “trafficking in U.S. passports; trafficking in entry documents; failure to surrender naturalization certificate; fraudulently acquiring U.S. passports; smuggling, etc.; unlawful alien; fraudulently acquiring entry documents; and unlawfully entering U.S.” Data from other sources suggest that most of these immigration cases involve unauthorized presence in the United States and nothing more. Statistics compiled by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University reveal that immigration offenses now account for the majority of federal prosecutions, and that illegal entry and illegal reentry account for the majority of immigration offenses.

In short, both our immigration system and our criminal justice system are in dire need of reform. The Bush and Obama administrations have chosen to prosecute more and more unauthorized immigrants for “unlawful entry” rather than deporting them, which means that they end up in federal prison along with murderers and drug traffickers. This is pointless and inhumane. Unauthorized immigration will not be stopped by further criminalizing unauthorized immigrants. It will be stopped when we have flexible limits on legal immigration, and when we deal honestly with the fact that the 11 million unauthorized immigrants already living in the United States are not going away.



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  • ?

    Your logic is flawed. Illegal immigration is not caused by a broken immigration system in the United States. Over a million individuals are approved for permanent residence every year. Nearly 180 million individuals lawfully enter the United States as nonimmigrants every year and the vast majority comply with our laws.

    The issue is with illegal immigrants who are willing to risk detention and removal from the U.S. in order to work here. I agree, this is not a crime involving moral turptidue, but is is a prohibited act. No one who enters the U.S. illegally can be viewed as a victim when caught and charged with removability.

    It is time to look at the situations in the sending countries and stop blaming the United States. No matter what laws are in place, no matter what changes are made, no matter how many unskilled laborers are permitted to enter, there will still be illegal immigrants if the conditions in the sending countries remain unchanged!

    The U.S. immigration system is not broken. Enforcement does not automatically equate to “inhumane” treatment. There is nothing “anti-immigrant” about U.S. immigration laws. The number speak for themselves. The United States does not force anyone to enter the U.S. illegally.

    You would deprive illegally immigrants of their liberties in a more fundemental way than our present immigration laws! From you prespective people should not have to be responsible for their actions and should not be made to accept the consequences of their actions.

    Liberty includes personal repsonbility and acceptance of the consequences of our actions. It includes the freedom to fail and the freedom to take risks. The risk in illegal immigration is detention and removal. If one enters a country illegally one can expect to be removed – period! I have been an immigration praticioner for nearly 20 years and I am truly mistified by articles like this and the growing “its the United States’ fault” that you, illegal immigrant, chose to enter illegally or overstay your visa and are now experiencing the consequences of that choice.

    • Victoria Sethunya

      The logic is not flawed- a broken immigration system generates a substantial population of “illegal” status holders. To give you an example, the so-called aging out is a process whereby dependants for instance can no longer depend on the primary status holder because that primary status was wrapped and trapped in red tape so that it could no longer be conferred to the dependants.

      How does this tape trap valid status? Documents get lost in immigration offices, immigration attorneys and some immigration “experts” foul the application process, applicants get arrested while waiting for USCIS to respond… are examples of how a broken systems creates illegal status. If in all of these scenarios it were like at the post office where you could start and close the transaction when you leave the desk, the incidence of system generated illegal status would be reduced. From these example scenarios aged out and the so called illegal immigrates can be born!

      • Victoria Sethunya

        The issue is with “illegal immigrants who are willing to risk detention and removal…”

        A woman in labour busting open a doctor’s office door is willing to do everything she can to deliver her baby safely. I man who is willing to put in 14 hours of work and climbs a crane in order to feed his family. None of these people “plan” to be in an accident: the woman does not expect to be put back at the end of the line so that she keeps the order, the man does not expect to fall of the crane and be crippled for life.

        “Illegal immigrants” are not opening themselves to risks in any manner different from that which the rest of us are exposed to risks by mere living.

        Yet on the other hand, it is counter-intuitive to punish and arrest a man, a woman for feeding his or her family, in an activity called “illegal work.”. We clearly are losing focus of the meaning of peace which embraces access to food and shelter among other things. From your post, I gather than you are a well read person. I guarantee you will find it written in many places of the world that United States has stepped in to provide food to the hungry and that the same United States is amplifying efforts for self sufficiency among those who are in the country and are “willing” to seek peace by going to work.

        I can see your viewpoint from the co-operate perspective, that if these “illegal workers” are here, that deprives us the opportunity to make large donations that we can into tax refunds, only if they remained in their home countries….everything would be fine.

  • Amy

    This seems like extremely counter-intuitive. If the agenda is to remove undesirable immigrants then why spend extra U.S. taxpayer money keeping them in expensive federal prisons? The federal government’s corporate schizophrenia is the reason why America is in such a mess. Literally what its left hand does contradicts what its right hand does!

    Unless someone who re-entered after being removed, or used counterfeit U.S. documents, most such cases are by definition non-criminal. To criminalize them, also, is actually counter-intuitive since as a criminal defendant they would automatically be entitled to public defenders and jury trials, unlike the “civil” immigration cases before the immigration “court” (aka Executive Office for Immigration Review).

    Before taking about debt ceilings and deficits, Congress needs to put a stop on this kind of self-defeating waste.

  • Victoria Sethunya

    Among those arrested and locked up in Federal buildings have been US Citizens and green card holders. I suggest that we have to have to a system of qualified practitioners in place even before we think about such a system breaking. In the US, medical practitioners are QUALIFIED members of the medical association. Even when medical missteps happen, the system operates from a qualified base. This is an example. In the same country, a person who arrests you for an ” immigration offense” may not be qualified. Yet he (typically HE) has the authority to chain you and have you put away while it is being decided whether or not you can be free.

    In this article decisions are made to house in Federal custody many people who have civil violations. Yet many immigration experts agree that civil violations do not land one in Federal custody.

    These contradicitons in the US Justice System challenge our notions of a free and democratic society. They are a source of wasteful spending. What these contradictions demand is a call to the Department of Justice, DHS, USCIS and ICE to deploy QUALIFIED personel who understand that the primary objective of retaining individuals in Federal custody is not to offend the US Consitution but to defend it.

  • janette ayala

    some officers came to my house and took my familly espacially my husband that is a hard working man they took him and put him in federall prison like a dog and he aint even commit no crime but enter the unitted states, left my daughter without a father when he was the only one who took care of us.., and they’ve been in prision since june 13 and till this day they still haven’t deported them.they’ve been going to court all this days and without doing anything bad they gave them four and three years for no reason just for somming to this damn country for a better life and to help our family at our country.