By Felicia Persaud
News Americas, NEW YORK, NY, Fri. Sept. 9, 2011: This week, a new report from the U.S. Sentencing Commission revealed a startling new trend – Latinos now make up more than half of all federal felony offenders sentenced only in the first nine months of fiscal year 2011, largely because of immigration offenses.
For the first time, Latinos comprise 50.3 percent of all people sentenced this fiscal year compared to 19.7 percent blacks and 26.4 percent whites. In comparison, last year Latinos made up just 16 percent of the whole U.S. population.
The report is staggering but what is missing from the data presented is the correlation between these numbers and the controversial Secure Communities agenda being carried out by the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Immigration and Enforcement Department.
Could this sudden spike be a direct result of SC? The answer of course can only be largely speculative but there is enough data to show that more and more Latino and other immigrants are being incarcerated because of even minor immigration offenses.
As the commission’s own statistics revealed, many recent federal sentences of Latinos are for felony immigration crimes such as illegal crossings and alien smuggling. Sin Yen Ling, an attorney who represents many detained immigrants on behalf of the Asian Law Caucus, said it best recently, noting: “According to our government’s own most recent statistics, about 95 percent of immigration detainees had no violent criminal convictions and the majority of detainees fall into ICE’s own ‘low custody’ category, meaning they have a low propensity for violence.”
Yet many are now federal prisoners, shackled for court appearances on the wrist, waist and legs like murderers.
The question many advocates should ask is what role is the controversial and much critiqued Secure Communities rule, a draconian, dictatorial measure the DHS has imposed on all states, playing in this sudden spike?.
Through the program, the FBI shares fingerprint data of people arrested by local and state law enforcement agencies with federal immigration authorities, who can use the information to check for immigration law violations. Once arrested immigrants are red flagged in the system, they are picked up and placed into detention centers awaiting deportation. This of course applies to anyone, whether an axe murderer or an immigrant who commits a minor infraction such as even being stopped by police for failing to do a complete stop – whether they are legally in the U.S. or not.
It is time for advocacy and attention to be turned to this rule, which declares immigrants guilty without a conviction. Otherwise, more and more families will continue to be ripped apart and the 50 plus percent of Latinos sentenced will undoubtedly continue to spike. S-Comm, ironically like the Alabama and Arizona laws, encourages racial profiling, deports immigrants with minor offenses and makes immigrants fearful of reporting crime because of the idea that police is collaborating with immigration. There needs to be more outrage and focus on this to force the Obama administration to ensure the DHS targets only dangerous criminals and not non-violent immigration offenders.
The writer is founder of NewsAmericasNow, CaribPR Wire and Hard Beat Communications.