July 16, 2009

Blacks and Latinos more likely to be Deported

Latin American and Caribbean nationals living in the US are more likely than Asians and Europeans living in the US to be deported. The figure below shows the likelihood that a foreign-born person residing in the US in 2007 would be deported for engaging in criminal activity. There is a clear trend in this data – people from Latin America and the Caribbean are much more likely to be deported than people from Asia or Europe. Some of these statistics are simply astounding. For example, in 2007, Hondurans were 144 times more likely to be deported on criminal grounds than Indians, relative to their proportions in the foreign-born population. In that same year, Mexicans were 52 times more likely to be deported on criminal grounds than Koreans, relative to their proportions in the foreign-born population.

There are a number of possible explanations for this disparity. Let me go through two of them. The first possibility is that Asians and Europeans born abroad are more likely to be citizens than Latin Americans and Caribbeans, and citizens are hardly ever deported. This has some truth to it. People born in Asia are, on average, 1.74 times more likely to be naturalized citizens than people born in Latin America. And, Europeans are 1.85 times more likely (American Community Survey 2003). However, that accounts for only a small fraction of the variation. Latin Americans are deported at much more than double the rate of Asians.

Another possibility is that Latin American and Caribbean nationals are committing more crimes. This is possible; however, the proportional differences are too great for this to be the complete explanation. There is no reason to believe that one national origin group would be 50 times more likely to commit crimes than another national origin group. In fact, the data indicate otherwise.

Let’s look at the crimes for which non-citizens were deported in 2007. One-third were deported for drug crimes, and one-fifth for immigration offenses. We don’t have the data by national origin on criminal activity, but we do have pretty good data on drug use.

A study conducted by the Office of National Drug Control Policy breaks down self-reported drug use by national origin. According to this study, Koreans were 1.8 times more likely to have used illicit drugs than Salvadorans. Yet, Salvadorans were 34 times more likely to face deportation on criminal grounds. This study also found that Jamaicans were three times more likely to have used illicit drugs than Indians, yet Indians were five times more likely to have used drugs other than marijuana than Jamaicans. Jamaicans were 24 times more likely to have been deported. Self-reported use of drugs other than marijuana is significant because possession of small amounts of marijuana usually is not grounds for deportation, whereas possession of a small amount of crack or cocaine can be grounds for deportation.

These data provide further proof for what we already know – Blacks and Latinos are targeted in criminal justice endeavors, and face harsher consequences for criminal activity than whites or Asians. They also put a new dimension on well-understood depictions of racism in the criminal justice system. After serving their time, Latin American and Caribbean youth are not let back out onto the streets of the US for another chance. Instead, they are deported.

The fact that deportation disproportionately affects blacks and Latinos further means that black and Latino communities are disproportionately affected by these policies. Many people who are deported leave behind family members. Their mothers, wives, children, siblings, and community members are left to mourn their loss.

The disproportionate impact of immigration law enforcement on Latin American and Caribbean nationals is deserving of attention by Civil Rights groups in the United States. It also provides further evidence of the racialized nature of the increase in immigration law enforcement in recent years.

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