November 18, 2009

Mass Deportation of People of Color in the US – A Hidden Consequence of Racial Discrimination in the Criminal Justice System

Most people are deported from the United States either because they lack the proper documentation to remain within U.S. borders or because they have committed a crime that renders them deportable. Nearly all are people of color. 92 % of people deported in fiscal years 2005 and 2006 were from nine countries – Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Nicaragua, and Jamaica – all in Latin America or the Caribbean.

The devastating effects of mass deportation from the United States are felt more strongly in communities where people of color predominate because nearly all deportees are black or Latino. Whereas the immigrant population includes many whites and Asians, blacks and Latinos have an almost exclusive presence among detainees and deportees.

For black men in the United States, imprisonment has become part of the life course – similar to getting married, having children, going to college, and entering the labor force. As a black man in America, it can be hard to avoid going to prison.

Even though black and white men have similar levels of criminal activity, black men are seven times more likely than white men to be imprisoned. Black men who are not citizens of the US often pay a hefty price for this criminalization – permanent exclusion from the US. Racism in the criminal justice system has severe implications for black immigrants. Many Jamaicans, Dominicans, and Haitians are phenotypically indistinguishable from African-Americans and experience the same set of resource deprivations and racist ideologies and practices that lead to the mass incarceration of black men. Those who are not citizens face deportation if convicted of certain crimes.

Non-citizens who have been in the US (legally or illegally) for less than seven years face detention and deportation for relatively minor crimes – jumping a turnstile in the New York subway could render a person deportable. Legal permanent residents who have been in the US for more than seven years face mandatory deportation if they are convicted of “aggravated felonies.” These include most felonies or misdemeanors where the person is sentenced to at least one year in prison, regardless of whether the sentence is served or suspended. These crimes can also be relatively minor, such as the theft of baby clothes from a department store, writing a false check, or getting into a bar fight. These harsh rules have been in place since President Bill Clinton signed two pieces of legislation in 1996. These two laws – the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRAIRA) – have led to the deportation of thousands of long-term residents of the United States.

For non-citizens, the harshness of the criminal justice system is compounded by the fact that non-citizens who are sentenced to one year or more in prison are not given a second chance in the United States. Abroad, they are often not given any chance at all. When deportees are sent to Jamaica, they face discrimination for being a deportee. The stigma of being a deportee, combined with a very tight labor market, means that most deportees have little hope for attaining any sort of success in Jamaica. Their deportation becomes a punishment for whatever crimes they have committed in the US, for the rest of their lives.

Note: This is a repost from here

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