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Seneca On Why the Latinos are Now the Most Numerous in Jail

February 20th, 2009 · 37 Comments

This week the Pew Hispanic Center released a new reportHispanics and Federal Crime. It describes the alarming state of affairs in terms of how Latinos now lead in numbers in the federal penal system throughout the US. It does not address with any granularity the status of Latinos at the local level, except to suggest that along the US-Mexican border area Latinos seem to be in more trouble and violating laws. Hence, the convictions are higher for Latinos in the Southwest border region. The legal basis is unclear for all of the Latinos in jail. They appear to have an immigration related violation according to the report. This will require more extensive sociological study, documentation and interviews by experts in the field.

My observation is: this sort of distressing report can only help to solidify an increasing perception that the Latinos who make up well over 65% of the undocumented or illegal foreign population in the US are a class of scofflaws. This is most disturbing. The report additionally becomes somewhat confusing when it suggests and states that a good number have been incarcerated for violating immigration law. The convictions broke down largely along citizenship lines. Among sentenced non-citizen Latino immigration offenders, more than eight-in-ten (81%) were convicted of entering unlawfully or residing in the U.S. without authorization. In contrast, more than nine-in-ten (91%) U.S. citizen Latino immigration offenders were convicted of smuggling, transporting or harboring an unlawful alien. Hispanics who were convicted of any federal offense were more likely than non-Hispanics to be sentenced to prison. If the Homeland Security Department has decreed that every illegal entering the US will be not only detained but convicted of a felony to serve time, this is truly an abuse of immigration law.

Ted Alden, former London Financial Times correspondent in Washington, recently wrote a book, The Closing of the American Border. Alden concludes in his book that after 9/11, the Justice Department developed the Patriot Act to control and monitor the American public. This Act appears to have added to the body of law in dealing with subversion or sedition. In terms of dealing with foreigners or non-US citizens or non-US residents, the existing immigration legal framework was instrumental to protect the US from any terrorist or similar threats. Hence, the draconian process in the application of issuing visas (no longer just trying to prevent economic refugees from entering the US, but real threats like terrorists), arduous port of entry immigration inspections, closer customs monitoring of cargo containers, advanced passenger inventory lists for aircraft scheduled to fly to the US and the Passenger Name Registration on aircraft in flight to the US. The publication of ‘no-fly lists’ (contain the names of suspected or known terrorists) created increased vigilance. But if you had the misfortune to have the same name as someone on the list or near the same name as crossed checked with the Advance Passenger and Passenger name lists, you are automatically denied access to the aircraft. These lists can further complicate travel into the US. This has made it imperative for governments to improve travel documentation such as internationally agreeing to include digital photos, special paper, digital fingerprints or iris scan or voice recognition chips.

It should be noted that out of over six billion people on the planet, over two billion have no real authentic documentation. That means that no birth certificates, baptismal notices, drivers licenses, passports or national ID cards are held by these individuals. Alden basically describes how immigration law became the preferred instrument to prevent, root out or capture any suspected terrorist or threat, but the importance of this determination to use the anti-terrorist cry to go after any undesirable quickly became apparent. Obtaining legal entry into the US is a monumental effort for most foreigners, subjected to high cost of visa applications, then comes the almost insulting if not contemptuous ordeal by the interviewing official at the US consulates. And then if you get the visa, there is no guarantee that the port of entry inspector will agree to allow one to enter the US. Ultimately, these Homeland Security immigration inspectors have the final word.

It is interesting to note that about 40% or more of the so-called illegals in the US come in legally with a visa or permission of sorts. The other 55% came in illegally. In practical terms, the stereotypical image of the undocumented is someone in tatters jumping a fence, swimming a river, or hiding in the floor board of a vehicle. It would be interesting for the Pew researchers to distinguish those Latinos in jail as to how many entered illegally or entered legally and overstayed their visas and became illegal. I would guess that the poor, downtrodden illegal who paid a coyote to enter the US is the one being incarcerated. The better clothed and educated ‘overstayers’ probably do not see this treatment as often. 

Portraying the Latino population as a horde of lawless undesirables is most misleading if in fact this draconian application of immigration law is yielding this result. MALDEF, along with the Pew Hispanic Center, should seek a foundation grant to thoroughly address this situation. Of course, many historians will readily point out that on the eve of the Civil War in 1860, the prison population was approximately 80% Irish. It appears as one wanders through US social history that in the 1700s, the prison population was small and mostly Scots-Irish. Small because most jurisdictions had no resources to build and house prisoners. Hence, stealing a horse or twice convicted of a crime could result in a rope around your neck and publicly executed. In the 1800s, the Irish were the scofflaws, and in the 1900s the African-Americans became the leading presence in the federal prisons and local jails. Now it appears that the Latino community will soon be seen as the new avant-guard in populating prison facilities, and this may be another indication of the underclass the Latino community is about to become. It certainly is not the case yet and should not be, but reports like these are alarming and distressing, but should be managed in a way that gives us solutions to the problem and points the way forward. Again, this Pew Report is most disconcerting. Its findings are certainly of great concern. The overall conclusion is that Latinos tend to be the most numerous group violating immigration law. That is not only illegal entry but includes aiding and abetting illegal entry. This serves to re-enforce negative stereotypes. Our community needs to attend this situation to disabuse the notion that we are all not law abiding.

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Tags: African-Americans · Crime · Immigration · MALDEF · Prison · Seneca

37 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Peter Coyotl // Feb 20, 2009 at 6:55 pm

    Arresting people of color to minimize their future opportunities is an age-old trick of our nation. By arresting undocumented immigrants it helps to maintian the sterotype of Hispanics as a lawbreaking people and it inhibits any future opportunities for those arrested to take advantage of any possible amnesty.

  • 2 Anna // Feb 20, 2009 at 8:08 pm

    Obam a needs to fix this immigration problem. Either legalize everybody or send them home. The way it is now, the prison system–which is now privatized– is profiting off of the poverty and economic desperation of poor Mexicans. Prisons are just another industry funded by the federal government and it makes me sick. You’re going to have big concentration camps along the border filled with people whose only crime was looking for work.

    I really wish Hillary had won!!!!!

  • 3 Reyfeo // Feb 20, 2009 at 10:08 pm

    To the author of this piece: GIVE ME A BREAK!!

    “If the Homeland Security Department has decreed that every illegal entering the US will be not only detained but convicted of a felony to serve time, this is truly an abuse of immigration law.”– Since when is breaking the law okay! If I go to Mexico, Colombia, or Ecuadro for that matter (need I throw any of the Muslim states/countries) without proper documentation, and or jump a fence to get there, I will end up in jail with NO DUE PROCESS!! So yes, throw everyone who comes here, or overstays their Visa and then breaks the law by crossing the threshold into “illegal” status, in jail!

    Which brings me to my next point:

    The author states, “Portraying the Latino population as a horde of lawless undesirables is most misleading if in fact this draconian application of immigration law is yielding this result.”–HELLO clueless, “Latinos” referenced in the fine piece of work are “illegals” not Americans and hence is causing the perception you are talking about. What does this report say about American “Latinos”? The results drop dramatically. My point here is, Who cares what the Latino perception is, THEY ARE HERE ILLEGALLY!!! We are Americans with a Latino culture/surname/background etc!!

    Also, its hipocratical to me that people like the author of this piece insist we “fix” the “percetion” of Latinos, but favors not enforcing the very laws that would keep them out of this country to begin with. I say again, this thesis holds no truth! It is not a legitimate complaint to say the “latino perception” is ruined by latino scafflaws if they are not AMERICANs to begin with!

    Furthermoe, the author obviously doesn’t travel much…ever been to the jungles of Colombia, Brazil or Ecuador? The reason there are “6 Billion” undocumneted human beings is because there is a large percentage of peoples who are still indigenous and live in the jungles of the Amazonas and or the African Safary, etc…THEY DON:T HAVE A NEED AND OR WANT TO COME TO THE US!!

    Lastly, you say, “Obtaining legal entry into the US is a monumental effort for most foreigners…”–YES, and some of us like it this way, and again I ask (you must be for wide open borders, right), ever been to Mexico where you have to provide a bribe to get to your real destination..those Mexicans hold the same power to send you back to the US packing if you don’t fill their wallets, but I don’t see you complaining about them!

    BOTTOMLINE: Latinos you reference here are Illegals, they broke the law and so they need to pay the price.

  • 4 RealDemocrat // Feb 21, 2009 at 9:27 am

    ReyFeo,

    The Liberal Collectivist mind, in this article, simply can’t accept the concept of individual accountability. And to have us think that only Mexicans are Illegal Aliens is an insult to us…

  • 5 india blanca // Feb 21, 2009 at 9:50 am

    …we are discussing federal prison sentences here…we are not speaking about simply being thrown in jail while awaiting deportation or while delucidating a specific case…we are speaking of becoming a federal inmate which not only makes the person in question a felon but it also means that the rest of us taxpayer will be paying a considerable sum to keep the individual housed in a federal facility…so disconnecting all the emotional tension the topic of immigration seems to ignite on both sides of the issue. let’s ask ourselves would it not be better to allow these individuals (after their background has been checked) to work, to become productive members of our society, to give them the option to contribute to our economy by paying their taxes not only to the IRS but at every cashier when they make a purchase…than to spend our tight federal budgets by housing them in federal penitentiaries….entering a country without documentation is not a felony in any other country in this Hemisphere….we are allowing our feelings to blind our common sense…many immigrants who have overstayed or entered this country without proper documentation have the best intention to be prosperous and law obeying citizens…I have a feeling that Seneca has travel the world and does understand the plight of the immigrant much better than most of us that join this discussion…his words are wise…we need to study these statistics in depth and question the current application of immigration law when it is not only questionable in terms of human morality but in pragmatic terms…what is more beneficial to us a country…surely not to have our federal penitentiaries filled with people whose only crime is to seek a better future for themselves and their families.

  • 6 webmaster // Feb 21, 2009 at 10:28 am

    India Blanca: “let’s ask ourselves would it not be better to allow these individuals (after their background has been checked) to work, to become productive members of our society, to give them the option to contribute to our economy by paying their taxes not only to the IRS but at every cashier when they make a purchase.”

    This is key. Incarceration is expensive.

    Also, as Rudy Giuliani reminded us over a year ago, illegal immigration is a civil violation, not a criminal one:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2007/dec/11/rudygiuliani.usa

    http://www.talkleft.com/story/2007/9/7/22737/81467

  • 7 Anna // Feb 21, 2009 at 10:54 am

    Re: “This is key. Incarceration is expensive. ”

    The government knows that. This is a payoff to the prison industry. Prisons are now on the stock market, so the more people in prison, the more money prisons make.

    In California the most powerful union is the prison guards union, and they own both the Republicans and the Democrats. Prison guards in CA now make more than teachers. They lobby against education spending, and for the continuation of three strikes, etc.

    Do you know how Governors determine their future prison budgets? They look at the number of boys who flunk third grade reading.

  • 8 Anna // Feb 21, 2009 at 10:57 am

    Reyfeo: Turn off Rush.

  • 9 Anna // Feb 21, 2009 at 11:12 am

    This post’s headline is incorrect and inflammatory.

    Latinos are not the most numerous group in jail. They are the most numerous in the federal prison system which makes up 6% of all people in jail.

  • 10 india blanca // Feb 21, 2009 at 12:01 pm

    here we go again, Anna…calling the headline inflammatory….it is statements like yours that inflame…why dont we simply connect with each other to ponder on issues of importance, to see if we can come to some agreement and in some way help establish a productive dialogue which might have a positive impact on the quality of life of our community….it might just work

  • 11 Anna // Feb 21, 2009 at 12:29 pm

    Sorry if the truth hurts. I read the report and the headline is false. Why say something about Latinos that isn’t true?

    And I agree about dialogue, but it has to be rooted in truth.

  • 12 india blanca // Feb 21, 2009 at 1:20 pm

    the headline is not false, it simply should especified that the post is referring to the individuals jailed in federal facilities…instead of what we commonly referr to us jail, which usually means state or county facilities…but dont get lost in the minutia of the black and white…the posting is quite clear in terms of the data revealed by the Pew report…and the truth is that it is absurd to think that people who are imprisoned for immigration offenses ie entering or residing in this country without proper documentation are the largest segment of the federally imprisoned population, and that overwhelmingly they are latinos…that is the truth that hurts

  • 13 Michaelr // Feb 21, 2009 at 2:19 pm

    Anna…as usual your truth is delusional and provides no starting point to begin some form of social empowerment for Latino culture. Your denial of reality makes all your commentary comical and then marginally idiotic. Accept the fact that Latinos represent the largest ethnic group housed inside of U.S. Federal prisons. And instead of claiming that’s a false statement, ask yourself why Latinos are targeted by law-enforcement and so easily pushed through the U.S. court system. You have the ability to say something intelligent, you just seem to prefer making moronic statements.

  • 14 theKaiser // Feb 21, 2009 at 2:26 pm

    Great posting, more reality delivered by way of Seneca.

  • 15 Anna // Feb 21, 2009 at 2:52 pm

    Re: “Accept the fact that Latinos represent the largest ethnic group housed inside of U.S. Federal prisons”

    I agree with that. (sigh) But that’s not what the headline says. The headline gives the false impression that Latinos make up the majority of people in jail (locked up). Latinos make up the largest segment of the federal prison system. The federal prison system makes up 6% of all people incarcerated.

    Furthermore, the majority of Latinos in that system ate there for offenses related to immigration: entering without documentation, not leaving when deported, using false ID to work, smuggling, etc.

    Illegal immigration is a profitable industry for the corporations that own prisons. That’s what at the root of this. As long as there is an economic motive to lock people up, this won’t stop. In the past, illegal immigrants were deported, not jailed.

    The federal government needs to run its own prisons instead of letting corporations run them. That will eliminate the economic motive for imprisoning people.

  • 16 Bearguez // Feb 21, 2009 at 4:26 pm

    More evidence that our cultural priorities need to be reexamined. If more of us sought higher education, and elected local and state political leadership that is accountable and committed to public service there would be less of us in prison. We can’t depend on our federal, state, and local Latino politicians, especially the ones in office now to foster these changes, nor can we depend on our civil rights organizations to do anything that will enable us as a group to move forward. First you have to empower the individual. And you do that through education.

  • 17 Anna // Feb 21, 2009 at 5:56 pm

    Education budgets are being slashed, and nobody is doing anything about it.

  • 18 webmaster // Feb 21, 2009 at 6:12 pm

    Anna,

    While it is true that education budgets are being slashed, the foundation for a good education starts at home. Unfortunately, I know many Latinos who have nicer television sets but don’t own or read many books.

    Our leaders should be up in arms about the education and incarceration situations in our communities, but look at where they place their priorities. When was the last time you heard one of our Latino leaders giving a rousing speech on education? One that prompts us to get off of our collective butts and in high gear…

    Just today in the news, they are reporting that an arrest will be made in the Chandra Levy case. One of the top suspects is a Salvadoran immigrant.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/story/2009/02/21/ST2009022100744.html

    Do you think that this guy’s crime will make it any easier to make a case for amnesty or legalizing some of the ones who work in the shadows?

  • 19 Reyfeo // Feb 21, 2009 at 6:17 pm

    My point which some of you have missed is not how many Latinos are in prison, is how Seneca captures all Latinos (who are derailling the “perception” of the supposed rest of us) in prison and assumes (and wraps all of us American Latinos in to the mix) they are “American Citizen” Latinos.

    The article points to two falsehoods/things:

    One, all Latinos, ARE NOT, I REPEAT, ARE NOT, American Citizens, and we as Americans better start making public that the idiot Latino who finds himself in our proson is not of our country…THEY ARE NOT AMERICANS!

    and two, Latinos (not of American Citizenship), in prisons, make a large percentage of the population, contrary to what Anna believes, is a KEY INDICATOR, we need to stop illegal immigration.

    Reason and two sub points to my second point above is; one illegals are coming here in droves to sell drugs to our children (drug dealers), rape our woman (rapist), kill our innocent (murderers) and drink until they couldn’t, but did anyway, drive, and kill innocent familes coming home from a dinner dates etc (drunk drivers). In parallel, the same can be said about those who overstayed thier welcome and joined the other idiots who now find themselves in jail, HENCE KILLING THE LATINO PERCEPTION…

    …two, they, that is the Latino not of American Citizenship in our prisons, are really the cause of the bad perceoption and we, the American Citizen latino who calls the U.S of A his home, better start countering folks like Seneca who want to erronously charter after fixing/remedying our bad “perception” when it what really needs to be done is publicly start delineating ourselves from those non “American” latinos!

    Lastly, I don’t listen to Rush, so please Anna, stop treating the bloggers on this website as if we’re all in a CNN debating Fox news, or Air America dueling against Rush setting…we are all trying to make a decent point here.

  • 20 india blanca // Feb 21, 2009 at 7:01 pm

    Reyfeo
    I am not sure where you draw the inference that “Seneca captures all Latinos (who are derailling the “perception” of the supposed rest of us) in prison and assumes (and wraps all of us American Latinos in to the mix) they are “American Citizen” Latinos. “…..when Seneca clearly states:
    “The convictions broke down largely along citizenship lines. Among sentenced non-citizen Latino immigration offenders, more than eight-in-ten (81%) were convicted of entering unlawfully or residing in the U.S. without authorization. In contrast, more than nine-in-ten (91%) U.S. citizen Latino immigration offenders were convicted of smuggling, transporting or harboring an unlawful alien. ”
    ….I am at loss at your interpretation…

  • 21 webmaster // Feb 21, 2009 at 7:08 pm

    India Blanca,

    I think that Reyfeo didn’t read or interpret what Seneca wrote clearly.

    The NY Times has a new editorial about this Pew Report that just was posted to their site:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/22/opinion/22sun3.html

    This part of the editorial sums up a lot of what Seneca is trying to convey (I think):

    “The Pew report follows news this month that even as a federal program to hunt immigrant fugitives saw its budget soar — to $218 million last year from $9 million in 2003 — its mission went astray. According to the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute, of the 72,000 people arrested through last February, 73 percent had no criminal record. Border Patrol agents in California and Maryland, meanwhile, tell of pressure to arrest workers at day-labor corners and convenience stores to meet quotas.

    The country needs to control its borders. It needs to rebuild an effective immigration system and thwart employers who cheat it. It needs to bring the undocumented forward and make citizen taxpayers of them.”

    We should focus on incarcerating people with criminal records, not undocumented people who have committed civil violations. And US citizen Latinos should not encourage illegal immigration by aiding smugglers, transporting undocumented people, hiring them, etc.

  • 22 Anna // Feb 21, 2009 at 8:07 pm

    Re: “One that prompts us to get off of our collective butts and in high gear…”

    Why do you keep making comments like this? A speech isn’t going to change anything. The culture needs to change. It’s not politically correct to say that, but it’s true. It won’t change unless people are exposed to something different and that usually happens in school.

    Children need to be immersed in English beginning in pre-school. Not being proficient in English is a huge problem. I don’t know why these dumb activists have declared war on English. How are you supposed to do anything for yourself if you can’t even communicate? Also many people aren’t fluent in either English or Spanish, and they speak some weird garbled pidgin where every other utterance is “like” and “you know.”

    Couples need to start having children later–age 30 would be good. The twenties should be spent getting an education, working and saving.

    Young mothers often end up divorced, or they don’t have their own issues worked out yet. And many of them are ignorant. I see so many of them feeding their kids junk food. Do you have any idea how the chemicals in fast food can overwhelm a toddler’s system? All that crap causes cognitive degradation.

    For a lot of people, especially those of indigenous descent, sugar is a drug. It’s no accident that many Latinos are alcoholic and/or obese. These people are literally getting their children addicted when they feed them fast food/ processed food.

    The Spanish brought over refined flour, sugar and lard. That’s also the diet they fed to the Native Americans on the reservations: alcohol, cheese, flour and sugar.

    That stuff will ruin your brain functioning and give you diabetes.

    Of course there are institutional problems of racism such as education cuts and trade policy. These need to be changed, but something tells me that in the next few years, this will get worse.

  • 23 webmaster // Feb 21, 2009 at 8:13 pm

    Re: “One that prompts us to get off of our collective butts and in high gear…”

    Why do you keep making comments like this? A speech isn’t going to change anything.

    Anna, politicians give speeches, respond to constituents, and hopefully make policy. Why can’t we start with a speech followed by some action? Why can’t I ask that one of the Latinos in Congress or in any of the statehouses make a speech that prompts us to action?

    Obama made a great speech about race relations that got people talking during the presidential campaign, and this week his AG Holder just made another one. I don’t think that you should underestimate rhetorical power.

    You are correct that the culture needs to change, but nobody wants to say this for fear of being un-PC as you assert. We need more honest dialogue and discussion. I think it would be great to hear the Congressional Hispanic Caucus pushing English immersion at the pre-K to K level, but if you go over to their website: http://velazquez.house.gov/chc/
    I don’t see anything talking about English language learning, do you?

    And I agree about diabetes and obesity, and I think that Linda Sanchez has even given talks in her district to kids about diabetes, obesity, and being healthy, etc. But do you think that anyone of these caucus members will ever put themselves on the line and go on a diet to set an example for those who need that extra encouragement? They have to show us that they are committed to this too.

  • 24 Reyfeo // Feb 21, 2009 at 8:24 pm

    I didn’t mis-read anything Webmaster…Seneca does well in the first few paragraphs, but then states:

    “Portraying the Latino population as a horde of lawless undesirables is most misleading if in fact this draconian application of immigration law is yielding this result. MALDEF, along with the Pew Hispanic Center, should seek a foundation grant to thoroughly address this situation.”

    First Seneca implies in this paragraph that the law has created this problem–the “draconian application of law” if you will. It’s the law that anyone who comes here illegally be incarcerated. Webmaster, what is the solution…that we send them back as we have in the past? Only for them to return? Or how about we have open borders? Let’s legalize all of Mexico and Ecuador, Colombia etc? Where do we draw the line?

    …if now we are arresting them and throwing them in jail, then so be it. They have broken the law, they must be incarcerated…Seneca implies the “draconian application” of the law needs to be remedied. HOW? Change the law and let them all stay? That’s what Seneca implies as a solution. Not all of us US Latinos believe in this.

    Further and what really kills me is, Seneca doesn’t suggest we educate our fellow non-Latino US Citizen on the very percentages Seneca provides so we can delineate ourselves from them (the scofflaws), but suggest we change the “draconian application” of the law because it “..serves to re-enforce negative stereotypes”…that to me is wrong. It suggests we make all Latinos legal (I’m sure that’s what most of you want) so that our “stereotype” improve…I mean please!!

    Lastly, “The overall conclusion is that Latinos tend to be the most numerous group violating immigration law.” Hello did anybody/Seneca just realize we are neighbors to Latin America? Of course we’re going to have this problem. The law is the law, and its about time we enforced it.

  • 25 Anna // Feb 21, 2009 at 8:49 pm

    Re: ” But do you think that anyone of these caucus members will ever put themselves on the line and go on a diet to set an example”

    LOL

    That won’t matter. People who abuse food/alcohol need therapy, not a thin Congressional representative. Addictions are serious business.

  • 26 webmaster // Feb 21, 2009 at 9:15 pm

    “Re: ” But do you think that anyone of these caucus members will ever put themselves on the line and go on a diet to set an example”

    LOL

    That won’t matter. People who abuse food/alcohol need therapy, not a thin Congressional representative. Addictions are serious business.”

    True, people with addiction issues need counseling, but what about the leadership? If we have leaders who shove coke up their noses, are poster children for obesity, diabetes, etc. themselves, and we are afraid to hold them accountable… what does that say about us, the electorate?

    Edited to Add (to bring this discussion back to the topic): I think that this piece about incarceration shows that the Latino leadership has its work carved out for it. For those Latinos who are US citizens, we should discourage behavior that could lead to incarceration by encouraging more education, job training, and advocating for healthier communities. Perhaps too, these incarceration stats could give us an opportunity to coalition build with the African-American community, as is suggested in this blog, since they too have high incarceration rates:

    http://ofamerica.wordpress.com/2009/02/19/the-age-of-crimmigration-is-upon-us-latinos-new-majority-in-federal-prisons/

  • 27 Anna // Feb 22, 2009 at 4:16 pm

    http://atriclesofinterest.wordpress.com/2008/12/02/us-private-prison-industry-booming-thanks-to-immigrant-inmates/

    Immigrants are behind one of America’s fastest growing, most profitable industries. That shouldn’t come as a surprise. Immigrants have always been a core factor in U.S. economic development.

    Mining, railroads, agribusiness, and, recently, construction have been among the many U.S. industries that historically been driven by an abundant supply of immigrants. But now, when the economy is imploding, most industries are shedding immigrants. The private prison industry, however, is booming, largely because of the ever-increasing supply of immigrants supplied by the federal government.

    In the past, when the government detained immigrants – legal or illegal – they were placed in one of a handful of official processing centers where they awaited a hearing or deportation. The Department of Homeland Security still runs seven immigrant detention centers.

    Since the early 1980s, sparked by the Reagan administration’s new enthusiasm for privatization and the free market, the Justice Department and now also DHS have been outsourcing most of the immigrant detainees to private firms that own or manage scores of prisons that annually hold hundreds of thousands of immigrants.

    At a time when most other industries are reporting slackening consumer demand and plunging revenues, the executives of the major private companies providing prison services attribute their fortunes to the sorry fate of America’s immigrant population. They routinely tell investors that their major “customers” – Federal Bureau of Prisons, U.S. Marshals Service, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) – keep “bed occupancy” near capacity.

    To understand how well the prison business is faring and how immigrants are key to prison profits, you can listen in on the prison firms’ quarterly conference calls with major Wall Street investment firms. In early November, the country’s prison corporations reported soaring profits.

    Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the country’s oldest and largest prison corporation, boasted that it enjoyed a $33.6 million increase in the third quarter over last year, while earnings rose 15% during the same period.

    Formerly known as Wackenhut, GEO Group, the nation’s second largest prison company, saw its earnings jump 29% over 2007. Another private prison firm that imprisons immigrants is Cornell Companies, and it reported a 9% increase in net revenues in the third quarter.

    Private prisons have been booming over the past eight years. From 2000 to 2005, the number of private prisons increased from 16% of all prisons to 23%. All of the increase in federal prisons has been in prisons owned or operated by private firms.

    Immigrants are the fastest growing sector of the federal detainees and prisoners, and there are hundreds of millions of dollars to be made by enterprising businesses and governments. The annual ICE budget for “detention and removal” is US$ 1.2 billion.

  • 28 Eh? // Feb 23, 2009 at 10:02 am

    If “illegal” immigration is a civil violation and not a criminal one, then why are all these “illegal aliens” in prison?

  • 29 india blanca // Feb 23, 2009 at 4:42 pm

    REMEMBER TO WATCH A CLASS APART THIS EVENING ON PBS/AMERICAN EXPERIENCE 9 EASTERN/8 CENTRAL

  • 30 webmaster // Feb 23, 2009 at 4:45 pm

    Thx for the reminder india blanca!

    I have already reminded people on various social networking sites and political lists as well. :) Let’s hope its well received!

  • 31 india blanca // Feb 26, 2009 at 3:34 am

    Would love to hear any comments on the documentary.

  • 32 webmaster // Feb 26, 2009 at 1:43 pm

    india blanca,

    You can see my comments about documentary here:

    http://latinopoliticsblog.com/2009/02/26/a-class-apart-open-thread-share-your-thoughts-about-the-documentary/

  • 33 Tony // Feb 26, 2009 at 10:44 pm

    Immigration is a huge problem. But unfortunately, there is no simple way to solve it. If a child is born in America, that child, according to law, is an American citizen regardless if whether that child’s parents are legal or not – that issue alone causes so many problems.

    But there are other issues as well that make immigration issues even more complicated.

  • 34 Anna // Feb 27, 2009 at 11:23 am

    Webmaster: You aren’t going to change this misleading headline?

  • 35 webmaster // Feb 27, 2009 at 11:32 am

    Anna,

    This is Seneca’s headline. Until he tells me otherwise, I will leave it. The second sentence in the very first paragraph specifies that this is the federal penal system.

  • 36 Connie // Apr 9, 2009 at 11:15 am

    I just thought I would put a comment in, since I work in a county jail in California. There is an ever increasing prison population of Latino’s mostly from Mexico. I find the bulk of those are in or related to gangs. Please Anna don’t start on how it is someone else’s fault and shouldn’t be mentioned. Sometimes we can’t see the forest for the trees. Children that join gangs sometimes come from good or at least financially well off families—-but I do believe that the kicker for most kids is the need to feel like you belong. As for arresting people just because they are here illegally– I have NEVER seen that happen (in the jail I work at which is the third largest in the country) They usually commit some other crime (most time dui and no license) and the immigration hold is added on. I couldn’t begin to count the numbers of illegals pulled over , whom can’t even communicate with the officers and they are let go. There is not always a boogey-man around every corner. There still is no country like America, which is why so many try so hard to get here. I believe that Mexico instead of exporting it’s men (to send back billions to Mexico), they should improve the infrastructure and living conditions in Mexico. Mexico has a wealth of intelligent (though maybe not educated) hard working people and abundent natural resources. It is the generational courruption that has kept Mexico in the shadows. Another problem no one talks about is the small towns in Mexico that have virtually no men left in them. What does this do to the families. Alot of these guys come up here and start another family. You can’t keep blaming the “gringos” for everything

  • 37 immigrant investor visa // Dec 2, 2009 at 2:25 pm

    In defense of Latins everywhere, I want it to be known that in the last 5 years, there have been more Immigrant Investor Visas handed out to Latin countries than in the previous 10 years combined! This shows that Latins, though they are struggling, are also contributing many jobs and businesses to this great country of ours!

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